- By Nikki Mitchell
- Home Affairs Correspondent, BBC South
A police force is using experts in facial recognition to patrol for sexual predators outside nightclubs and bars.
Thames Valley Police has deployed so-called “super-recognisers” near nightspots to spot known sex offenders.
The operation is part of Project Vigilant, a national police initiative to combat sexual violence.
The force is the first in the UK to use officers in such a way, according to specialist firm Super Recognisers International.
Its chief executive, Mike Neville, said: “Thames Valley Police are at the forefront of using them to tackle people who commit offences against women and girls, spotting these offenders on the street so they can be quickly arrested or warned.”
The term super-recognisers is applied to people with talents such as a good memory for faces or the ability to recognise an individual pictured at different ages.
Experts believe the innate ability – in about 2% of people – fades later in life and is less effective outside the user’s own ethnic background.
Super-recognisers have previously been used in the hunt for the Salisbury Novichok poisoners, as well as to track the movements of the Hillsborough disaster victims.
Thames Valley Police identified and trained super-recognisers in 2020.
One of its officers, who cannot be named, said: “We would be out proactively patrolling areas of night-time economy, where people would be preying upon victims that are potentially vulnerable – intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
“So we are just looking for that predatory behaviour… and then we would get uniformed people to stop them and ask where they’re from and find out what they’re doing.”
Civilian investigator Alex Thorburn, a super-recogniser with the force’s major crime unit, said she had previously patrolled major events such as the Coronation weekend and Windsor and Ascot races.
She said: “We will get sent emails of people to identify. It might be that we have dealt with that person before.”
Other forces using super-recognisers include City of London, Jersey, West Midlands and the Met Police.