National / Crime & Legal

Honed over four decades, Osaka police use facial recognition skills to arrest dozens of wanted criminals every year


Despite advances in facial recognition technology, the police in Osaka still rely on pure skill to find fugitives, with investigators using only their memory to arrest dozens of wanted criminals every year.

While other police forces in the world have “super recognizer” units that hunt down fugitives, the so-called miatari (look and hit) technique used in Osaka has contributed to the arrests of over 4,000 criminals in Japan since the Osaka Prefectural Police introduced it as a formal investigative method in November 1978. There has not been a single wrongful arrest.

“The best part of this method is being able to detect fugitives who are hard to find in normal investigations,” said a senior investigator in Osaka.

He says a forensic analysis is an imperative part of criminal investigations, but “we want to pass on the tradition because our job is to make sure no one gets away with a crime.”

The use of miatari began after an investigator in Osaka remembered a face from a photograph of a suspect wanted for a crime in Okinawa.

The Osaka Prefectural Police’s trained facial recognition investigators have been able to arrest 50 to 100 criminals annually in recent years. They burn the faces of wanted criminals into their memory and comb the streets. An experienced investigator can remember over 1,000 faces, according to the Osaka police. This method is being utilized by police forces in 12 other prefectures and Tokyo.

“You focus on their eyes, which never change regardless of whether they gain or lose weight, and burn their images into your memory,” said one investigator.

At the same time, the Japanese police are also keen to adopt the digital approach to facial recognition.

Tokyo’s Haneda airport installed a facial recognition system in October last year to monitor travelers. Some businesses use it to record employees’ movements, while some concert halls have a face verification system to identify buyers to prevent the resale of tickets.

In China about 176 million surveillance cameras were installed as of 2017, and some are connected to a public security database, according to Chinese media.

A wanted man was reportedly arrested in April when a facial recognition system spotted him among some 60,000 people attending a concert for Hong Kong star Jacky Cheung. Over 2,000 suspects have been arrested over the past two years thanks to surveillance cameras, according to a security system provider.

The FBI also uses a facial recognition technology to compare facial images of suspects against mugshots.

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