How hotpot helped Chinese police catch a fugitive

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Beijing – China’s rapidly evolving surveillance technologies have snared their share of fugitives in recent years.

Most of these cases have involved facial recognition cameras, which can detect individual facial features regardless of glasses, hats or masks.

There were the 80-odd wanted suspects who were picked out of a crowds of tens of thousands of fans at concerts by Jacky Cheung, a legendary Cantopop crooner.

In April this year, a genius student wanted for killing his mother was caught after being on the lam for almost four years. He was nabbed within 10 minutes of entering Chongqing airport, local media outlet Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

There was even a grisly case in which a man was arrested for murdering his girlfriend after facial recognition software caught her face, not his, when he tried to apply for a loan using her visage.

And just last month, police captured 25 wanted men, 19 drug users, and five pickpockets using facial recognition technology at the Qingdao International Beer Festival, Asia’s answer to Oktoberfest and an event that attracts several million revelers. Another 32 people with a history of pickpocketing were denied entry to the festival when their facial features were captured at the security check.

China’s facial recognition technology is now so advanced that it can positively identify 98.1 percent of human faces and within 0.8 seconds, according to the China Daily.

But the latest case of unconventional detective work comes from the eastern province of Jiangsu, where local police used their own faces, not their target’s, to locate their man – specifically their noses. Call it olfactory recognition.

Jiangsu police had been looking for a man named Guo Bing, who was suspected of gang crimes, fraud and extortion and had been on the run in the city of Nantong since police there cracked down on gang-related activity in late May, local media reported Tuesday. The case was reported by Sixth Tone, an English language website devoted to Chinese news.

The police used facial recognition to figure out which building in the city of Nantong their man was living in, but they didn’t know the apartment.

“It was difficult to tell which room he lives in because there are too many residents in the same building,” Ge Lei, a local police detective, told the local television station, “and the busy surroundings didn’t allow us to do more.”

So they put in 24-hour camera surveillance and spotted Guo going to a local market on Saturday afternoon and buying ingredients for hot pot, a Chinese specialty in which meat and vegetables are dipped into bubbling soup.

“We saw him buying vegetables and hot pot soup base at a market in one afternoon,” Ge said, “so we guessed he was going to have hot pot that day.”

The police narrowed down the search to the 7th floor of the apartment building, then started sniffing at each door.

When they registered the unmistakable aroma of hot pot, they knew they had their man.

Television footage of the bust showed police descending on the surprised and shirtless man – eating hot pot is a messy and sweaty business – and being hauled away.

He was caught red-faced, if not red-handed.


The Washington Post

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