Hackney cop just cannot forget a criminal face

SOME CRIMINALS will never forget how Gary Collins uses his memory: thanks to him, they’re in a place where there’s plenty of time for recalling pasts.

Collins is a constable in Hackney police’s gangs unit and he just cannot forget a face.

It may be an image blurred by low-resolution CCTV or a police head shot of someone he’s never met: his brain can retrieve it, sometimes months or years later.

After the mass looting outbreak in Enfield in August 2011, face ace Collins identified 180 suspects while a force face-recognition computer spotted one.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville oversees the Metropolitan Police’s circulation unit, which collates and distributes CCTV images of criminal suspects. He told BBC news that after the riots “Gary identified even a guy wearing a baseball cap under his hoodie and a red bandanna over his chin”.

The image was fuzzy and a conviction was unlikely — but the man pleaded guilty.

How has Collins become so good at faces?

He told Loving Dalston: “I guess I’ve always been good at recognising and memorising faces. I really became aware of it only 20 years ago.

“When I joined the police, I noticed that I was recognising people on the streets who I had never met and had seen only in police photos.”

It must be useful at parties and other gatherings. “It does make it easier at social events,” he admitted. “I scan the room to see if there is anyone I want to avoid — hopefully see them before they see me.

“I have identified more than 800 people from CCTV and other images over the years, for offences ranging from murder, rape, serious assault, burglary, robbery and shoplifting to other thefts.”

Josh Davis, of the University of Greenwich, is trying to work out how Collins and other memory marvels function.

Even after “extensive tests” the  psychologist has “no idea”, although he has noticed that these cops can identify people “from their eyes only”. Collins comments: “It just sort of clicks.”

David Altheer 021115

* Are you good at faces? Try Dr Davis’s five-minute online test

* Backstory: A mother stands up to gangs; Gang youth of Hackney offered a way out; Knives cut from Hackney streets 

* Main picture, PC Gary Collins, © Rowena Bond/Loving Dalston

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PoliceLb: Dalston Eastern Curve garden stabbing scene 140714 London E8 © david.altheer@gmail.com
Another mug will go into the personal database in due course: police follow up a stabbing last year

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