This is rather fun isn’t it?

About “super recognisers”. Coppers who can identify someone from mere fragments of visual evidence:

The Super-recogniser Unit is based on the third floor of a grey stone police building in Lambeth in south London. It is the only unit of its kind in the world. It was set up in May 2015, and moved from Scotland Yard in July; the charts showing the criminals they have identified and cases they are currently working on are still to be unpacked. The team consists of six officers – five men and one woman. Snook is usually at her desk by eight in the morning. “We are all quite driven,” she says. “We would much rather sit there and try to find these people than go home – we’re a bit sad really.” Alongside the super-recognisers working full-time in the unit, there are around 150 working in police departments across London. (Smith wanted Collins to join the unit, but his borough refused to release him: he was too valuable.)

What’s so interesting about this is that there’re two ways of doing this. Have these specific talent people in a central organisation.

Or have bobbies on the beat who actually know their area and the people in it. Guess which system we used to have and which one we have now?

Sure, specialisation and division of labour. But that still rubs both ways, doesn’t it?

31 thoughts on “This is rather fun isn’t it?”

  1. The problem is that coppers wouldn’t know people. In the Dixon of Dock Green era and before, people didn’t move much, neighbours knew each other. It’s why “bobbies on the beat” doesn’t really work today.

  2. This sounds like one of those jobs that could be done by someone on the autism spectrum better than it could be a regular copper. After all it is just a very big game of Pairs and well suited to those who can obsess over such tasks.

  3. this also fits in with a perspective i have on the public sector – it works well when you have people doing things they like doing. This probably appeals to people who like playing Where’s Wally, people who do jigsaws. It’s a bit like a game. It’s why teaching generally works – teachers actually like doing it. It doesn’t work with things like administration – it’s boring but necessary

  4. Not yet, no. Facial recognition isn’t good enough yet. Even those passport machines tend to get set to only 70% or 80% matches.

    It will come but just not yet.

  5. This crew of sooper-snoopers seem ripe for and vulnerable to a mass Sweeney-type raid by a large group of crims with motorcycle helmets and pick-axe handles. Smash in, beat the shit out of the “sensitives” and be on their way.

    Back to the 70s.

    Plus, all the compo claims from the battered snoopers would do as much damage as the raid.

  6. ‘Snook is usually at her desk by eight in the morning. “We are all quite driven,”’

    In the private sector, we usually refer to these individuals as ‘on time’ rather than ‘driven’

  7. Seem to remember reading about this talent quite a while ago, so the 2008/2009 dates in the article seem to match, where it was identified in a few people who were part of testing teams for early facial recognition systems. IIRC, some seemed to be picking up on posture and gait as well as facial features.

    Strikes me that with a specialist unit, the level of talent needed for a member to be effective could be lower than the projected 1-2% of the population (which gives north of half a million anyways) with the hypothetical condition.

  8. Ducky, I’m pretty good at it, I can recognise bit-part actors seen years before in one off dramas. The major problem is that one then sits around for hours thinking “Aaaahhh, WTF is his name??!!” before giving in and checking IMDb. Not sure that would work too well for the rozzers.

  9. As far as that goes, I’m pretty good at that myself. But, so is the other half, once I make that connection and point it out. She also points out when I’m wrong. But I suspect that there’s something else going on, as sometimes I can identify the film or programme straight off, and sometimes not.

  10. I envy you lot who can do this.

    I’m fucking crap at it- someone changes their hair, or even wears a hat, I’m lost.

    I can identify a book from a single line of text, or a record/song/band from a snippet of lyric, but on faces, I’m utterly shit.

    My wife had a new haircut a few years back, and I didn’t recognise her for weeks afterwards. When she came home, we chatted amicably for an hour or two, before I asked her to leave “as my missus will be back from the hairdressers soon, and she won’t be happy to find me talking to another woman in our house”

  11. I wonder how accurate they are. Considering that we are looking at arresting and charging people, I’d hope their false positive rate, at least, was extremely low.

    But, when you fire London’s unsolved crimes through that, Bayes’ Theorem says you are going to get a whole load of incorrect matches.

  12. Gait is an interesting one. I’ve found when I’m watching sportsmen on TV I can pick out who is who by how they run even if the lens is too far zoomed out to see their features. I’m sure an awful lot of people can do this, though.

  13. I’ve just been greeted effusively, by name, in the lift lobby while getting a coffee. I’ve no idea who this person is, but clearly, we’ve met!

  14. Tim Newman: “I’m sure an awful lot of people can do this, though.”

    Not with sportsmen, but I identify birds more from the pattern of flight than through size, colour, etc.

  15. Coppers on the beat may make people think they are safer but is very wasteful of staff.
    Copper walking down my street, there’s a crime the other end of the village – 20 minutes later a very knackered copper staggers to a stop outside the shop that has just been robbed.
    Realistically he cannot respond to calls when walking the beat, and sat in a car doesn’t get him much local contact.

    Do we want quick police response or do we want a visible copper on almost every street? For the same money cannot have both.

  16. @Martin: but the job of a beat copper is more than simply catching criminals – it’s gathering intel, recognising trends, knowing your beat, providing a visible sign of law and order, etc.

  17. @Doug.

    I was once flummoxed by meeting the lady from my local offey in Tesco. It wasn’t until I went to the offey the following day did it click. I was aware I knew her, but had no idea from where.

    As for your dilemma, I would have said the worst case scenario was you propositioning your daughter, rather than being perceived to be leering at random teenagers…

  18. You could get some of the advantages of a beat copper by giving local bobbies an expenses allowance to pay for relaxing in local – must be local – pubs or restaurants a couple of times a week. Puritans would object though.

  19. “specialisation and division of labour … rubs both ways”: i’ve just been reading someone who complains that the emphasis on ‘Special Forces” robs the PBI of some of the officers and other ranks that they most need, especially NCOs.

  20. > giving local bobbies an expenses allowance to pay for relaxing in local pubs

    Nice in theory; but in practice they already gather in the pub nearest the police station, and all the ne’er-do-wells know not to go in there.

    Also, that’s not going to catch the growing numbers of criminals from non-drinking cultures. Perhaps coppers need an allowance for the local snooker club and kebab shop too.

  21. This is a surprisingly positive article given it is in the Guardian and is about police officers putting black people inside based on recognising a face from a blurry image.

    Anyway, I interviewed for a position like this. I said I’d be hopeless at this job as they all looked the same to me. I was sacked and lost my pension.

    I’m here all week.

  22. I actually work in the same building as these officers. They have a very specific talent and it’s not just knowing the local scrotes. They can look at sheets of faces and then identify the suspected person from the sheets.
    Coppers,like the whole human race, fill a bell curve. A small minority have what I call “Coppers nose”. They can walk in to a situation and just sense something is wrong. A vehicle circulation will be recalled and found etc. Most have normal (albeit highly trained) observational skills. A small minority are like Inspector Clouseau and could miss an elephant theft in front of them.

  23. I know people who recognise hockey players from the way they skate, I can barely read the names on the jerseys, apart from the goalie I can usually spot him.

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