by Anthony W. Accurso
Maryland Detective Nick Jerman was featured in a July 2021 episode of the Street Cop Podcast in which he teaches officers to use subterfuge and publicly available facial recognition tools to identify people during traffic stops.
The Street Cop Podcast, hosted by its founder Dennis Benigno, advertises itself as “[t]he training that cops deserve” and is marketed at active-duty police.
Jerman poses a hypothetical situation where an officer suspects the passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop may have an open warrant, but the officer needs to identify the passenger before arresting them. He describes this as being “in a situation where you can’t compel ID and before you even ask you’re like there’s something not right with this guy and he’s gonna lie.”
He advises two (equally creepy and constitutionally problematic) solutions to this “problem”: taking a picture of the person and using a public-facing facial recognition search engine (he recommends PimEyes), or suggesting the person might be in possession of a stolen cellphone and asking for the phone number, so the officer can call the phone in order to “exonerate” them—thereby revealing a piece of information (a phone number) that can be tracked back to a person’s identity using publicly available search tools. Remarking on the latter, he says that “[i]f you can get the phone number from your target, the world is your oyster.”
While Jerman advises there is “nothing illegal” about these tactics, that assertion is suspect. In some cities and states, officers are explicitly banned from using facial recognition tools, even when they are not paying to use them. In other jurisdictions, the lack of an explicit court opinion defining such an action as a warrantless search does not mean it is, in fact, legal.
As for trying to obtain an unidentified person’s cellphone number, Jerman suggests lying to them to get it. “[Say] ‘I see that phone in the car, we’ve had a lot of thefts of phones. Is that really your phone?’ and then you can call it to see if that’s the real phone number,” said Jerman.
While it is legal for police to lie to innocent people, this tactic normalizes a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to police-public interactions that is deeply disturbing and surely further erodes any remaining trust the public may have in police.
During the podcast, Jerman also shared an event that most exemplifies his creepy attitude toward “targets” of his curiosity. When his friend wanted to approach a “hot” woman at a wedding, but knew little about her, Jerman did a geofence Instagram search for recent posts near the wedding venue and found a picture with the woman named Marilisa, posted by her friend Amanda. “Then you can start gaining intel on Amanda,” said Jerman. “[T]hen you can go back to Marilisa and start talking to her as if you know her friend Amanda.”
Writing for Techdirt.com, Tim Cushing describes such nightmare scenarios by saying, “[i]magine the creepiest things a stalker might do to obtain information about you,” and “imagine all of that in the hands of someone with an incredible amount of power, easy access to weapons, and an insular shield [of] non-accountability surrounding them.”
Detective Jerman is, according to Business Insider, under investigation by his department (as of February 2022) over some very questionable social media posts. With any luck, his authority over innocent civilians will be revoked before his stunning lack of boundaries and casual disregard for the privacy and rights of others results in more flagrant abuses.
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