- London police are deploying a team of “super recognisers” to monitor CCTV footage from the Notting Hill Carnival this year to prevent violence and drug dealing. Super recognisers have exceptionally high perception and memory skills. They are able to recognise strangers even from grainy footage. The Met currently has more than 140 officers with these capabilities.
As London braces for 1.5 million to turn out for the Notting Hill Carnival – Europe’s largest street festival – this Bank Holiday weekend, police are keen to crack down on drug dealing, gang violence, and knife crime.
Officers have already made over 290 arrests, seized 190 knives, 18 guns, and various class A and B drugs – including a kilogram of heroin – in preparation for the carnival, the London Metropolitan Police said in a press statement on Tuesday.
And on the day itself, the Met will rely on an elite team of 140 highly-skilled officers, known internally as “super recognisers,” to monitor live CCTV feeds of the event for crime and people prohibited by their bail conditions to attend the event, a police spokesman told Business Insider UK.
“Super recognisers” are officers with exceptionally high perception and memory skills, who have the ability to recognise total strangers on the streets based on what they’ve seen in person. Sometimes they can even identify people based on grainy footage, according to the New York Times.
Super recognisers are born with their skill
These officers can recall up to 95% of the faces they see, while the average person remembers just 20%, the BBC noted. To date, scientists don’t know how some people are born with these recognition skills. Brad Duchaine, a psychology and neuroscience professor, told Yahoo Health it could just be down to “genetic good luck.”
Super recognisers probably make up less than 1% of people, according to psychologist Josh P. Davis. In this video, Davis explains how they work:
Scotland Yard currently has more than 140 officers “who have been recognised as having heightened ability in facial recognition,” a spokesman said. Not all of these officers will be involved in monitoring the Notting Hill Carnival, however.
The force also has a central unit of super recognisers who investigate unidentified criminals, while others work throughout the Met in other capacities, he added.
Some 73% of identifications made by the Met’s super recognisers led to criminal charges, the New Yorker reported in 2016. But 13% of identifications have also been wrong in the past.
Eliot Porritt, a detective sergeant in the super recogniser unit, insisted that their work only helps direct investigations. “It’s never our word alone that puts someone away,” he told the American magazine.
Super recognisers: The crack cases
For now though, that the work of super recognisers will remain integral to the Met’s work. Here are some key cases over the past six years:
- Following the north London riots in 2011, super recogniser Gary Collins successfully recognised 190 people while reviewing CCTV footage – four times more than any other officer, the BBC reported. After 14-year-old Alice Gross disappeared in London in 2014, 10 super recognisers identified and located the victim and her abductor after viewing low-quality CCTV footage across London, according to the BBC. Idris Baba, a Westminster-based detention officer who was awarded a British Empire Medal for his work as a super recogniser. He even received a note from a “baffled” burglar praising him for his extraordinary memory, the Met reported this year.
The importance of super recognisers are slowly being acknowledged around the world too.
Last year, German police enlisted two British super recognisers to help identify offenders behind the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, which saw almost 400 women file criminal complaints of sexual assault.
- Reuters/Neil Hall
The Met first started employing super recognisers to monitor the Notting Hill Carnival in 2013.
Police made 454 arrests at last year’s festival, most of which involved possession of knives, weapons, and drugs, according to the Associated Press. It was not clear how many of these arrests were facilitated by the work of super recognisers.
The Met has not revealed the total number of police and super recognisers deployed at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival, or the cost of the operations. The Met has not responded to BI’s request to comment on these figures.
Six thousand officers were deployed, and £8 million was spent, in policing operations in last year’s carnival, the Evening Standard reported. Undercover armed soldiers will also patrol this year’s carnival amid terror attack fears.