Pittsburgh police officers accessed the facial recognition technology Clearview AI over the course of a year, including during Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The use of the technology violated police policy and, in some later cases, broke city law.
An Allegheny County analysis of overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016 showed that almost one in every five people who died of an overdose had been released from jail at some point in the previous year. About half of that group died within 90 days of being released and a quarter died within 30 days of leaving the jail. Advocates say the county should provide medication-assisted drug treatment.
The Pittsburgh police bureau is investigating contact between police staff and Clearview AI following inquiries by PublicSource about the bureau’s involvement with the facial recognition company.
According to a recent story from Buzzfeed News, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police made between 101 and 500 searches on Clearview between 2018 and February 2020. Using data provided by a confidential source, along with public records and interviews, Buzzfeed News compiled a list of over 1,800 publicly funded agencies across the country that used Clearview, including 63 in Pennsylvania. Cara Cruz, a spokesperson for the Pittsburgh police, confirmed to PublicSource that members of the bureau received emails from Clearview and said the bureau is still investigating the extent of correspondence between Clearview and police staff. Any correspondence between Clearview and bureau staff occurred without the approval or knowledge of police command staff, Cruz wrote in an email to PublicSource, adding that the bureau has not and does not approve of the use of private facial recognition technologies. The bureau has a policy prohibiting its use.
The absence of counseling and reliance on medication is a common occurrence in facilities like ACJ, where many incarcerated people would benefit from therapy, but problems like high population turnover, understaffing and lack of funding make delivering care complicated.
Compared to the other five largest PA counties, ACJ was far less transparent in providing its mental health policies. PublicSource appealed ACJ’s decision to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, but the appeal was denied.
Christopher West sleeps in two thermal shirts and two pairs of socks. He moved his cot to the center of his cell, on the floor and away from the walls where it’s coldest. Still, West said it’s hard to stay warm in the Allegheny County Jail. On Feb. 8, West asked a friend to post a message on his Instagram: “Somebody tell THEM to turn on the heat in the ACJ we freezing,” the post read.
Parts of the Allegheny County Jail are plagued with frigid temperatures, according to jail complaints, incarcerated people and their loved ones — a problem that has been raised to jail leadership and the jail board.
Some members of the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board are insisting on increased transparency and access to jail records. The issue, which was discussed at the board’s monthly meeting on Thursday, was prompted in part by PublicSource’s ongoing reporting on conditions at the jail.
Update (3/6/2021): At the March 4 Jail Oversight Board meeting, Warden Orlando Harper reported to the board about restraint chair use. It was a deviation from what he typically shares at these meetings in response to the board asking for more information on how the jail uses the device following the original PublicSource report below. He said the jail used the restraint chair 18 times in February. He promised that, at the April board meeting, he would provide the March count and include the number of times a person with a mental health condition is placed in the chair. Harper also agreed to show board members the restraint chair forms that are completed each time the chair is used. Jail leadership also provided the board the healthcare queues the board requested following a PublicSource investigation about medical treatment at the facility.
The Capitol riot marks another notable moment in the ongoing facial recognition debate.
The facial recognition app Clearview AI saw an increase in use the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported. As police departments throughout the United States are helping the FBI identify rioters, some are reportedly using facial recognition technology.
The use of facial recognition last year to investigate suspected crimes related to Black Lives Matter protests raised privacy and First Amendment concerns from activists, advocates and some lawmakers. Studies show the technology, which attempts to match an uploaded image of a person to other images in a photo database, is less accurate at identifying people of color and women. Facial recognition has also resulted in at least three Black men being wrongfully arrested.