ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - It’s a new high tech tool tackling business robberies: facial recognition cameras. Crimes are so common at many overnight stores that the employees know it’s just a matter of time before they get hit.
Former store clerk Erik Stephensen said he’ll never forget his robber’s words, “Hands up! Empty your registers!” He said his co-worker asked, “Wait, is this real right now?” He said the robber answered, “Oh this is very real.”
Stephensen worked overnight to pay for his Mizzou classes by day. After the hold-up, he feared it would happen again as he heard news about more robberies nearby. He remembers telling himself, “So this is happening on my street, that means we're bound to get hit for sure.”
It's getting so bad across the country, Atlanta leaders are proposing millions of tax dollars for extra police patrols to combat overnight robberies.
In St. Louis, the Motomart off I-270 and Riverview recently started using a high tech tactic. Store manager Chad Leemon said, “It's in addition the to the cameras we already have.” After dark, employees put up signs – “Facial Recognition Software in Use - Please Look at Above Camera for Entry.” Leemon said, “Don't forget to look up. That's going to be the only way you're going to be able to get in.”
The doors are locked and the light glows red until you show your face to get the green light. Once we got into the right sweet spot as we call it, it's been very seamless. If you cover your face with a mask or even your hand, you can't get in.
Leemon says he's heard no complaints from customers. He added that some people have said good things. “The older females tend to like it a lot more,” he said. Retired St. Louis Police Major Joe Spiess is Sr. partner of the facial recognition company called Blue Line Technology.
Spiess described how the camera can also alert employees about potential shoplifters flagged in the system. Employees get a text message with a picture of that person. The employee response is not what you might think. Spiess explained they should greet the suspect with a smile and an offer to help. He said, “I'm as nice to you as I can be. What I want to impress upon you is I know you're there. They're gonna leave. They're not gonna steal. You're not going to have the violent act behind it.”
Store Manager Leemon says the technology has led to a surprising benefit. He can get people to work overnight again. He said, “Now with the camera, we've had people that have gone to those other shifts come back and say ‘you know what? Overnights is a really fun idea.’”