How Woody Harrelson Unknowingly Helped Catch An Alleged Thief

Think about how often you and your friends find yourselves pointing out someone's celebrity doppelgänger. It's a fun game, right? In the age of visual media, household names have also become household faces, so it's not unusual to see your favorite actor's most prominent features in any given passerby's countenance after binge watching whatever hot new Netflix show they're in.

However, this phenomenon isn't solely restricted to the domain of casual amusement and silly little day-to-day comparisons. Back in 2017, the "look-alike" game actually helped the long arm of the law wrap itself around a wanted criminal, according to the New York Post. While he wasn't necessarily public enemy #1, a small-time Manhattan crook ruffled some police feathers after being accused of waltzing out of a CVS Pharmacy with a case of beer in his hand — a case of beer it's alleged he didn't bother paying for. (In case you forgot, theft is still a crime, even in Manhattan.)

Facial recognition technology failed to find a suspect

Security footage of the incident showed the alleged thief hastily exiting the building with a case of beer in his hand, but his face was pixilated and his features were indiscernible. Police were unable to ascertain his identity via digital facial recognition technology, and there were no other leads that could have cracked open any new details, so it seemed as though the case of the cold ones would ultimately become a cold case in and of itself (via Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology). 

However, hope was far from lost. After one particular detective noticed a few significant parallels between the alleged thief's face and one belonging to a major Hollywood actor, he started to diversify his tactics of pursuit. According to ABC News, NYPD officials resorted to using a photograph of Woody Harrelson — per New York Post, from his appearance in "The Hunger Games" — to narrow down the search for the alleged CVS brew burglar.  

NYPD used a picture of Woody Harrelson to find the alleged thief

After noting certain similarities (hairline, Adam's apple) between the suspected crook and Harrelson's character in "The Hunger Games" (2012), the NYC investigator suggested that the team run a photograph of the actor through their facial recognition machine. Miraculously, the technique worked, and when a clear picture of the individual in question appeared on screen, along with his rap sheet of similar crimes, police were fairly certain that they'd found their man (per New York Post). 

Shortly after that, an arrest was made and the accused beer thief was brought to justice. However, certain critics of the arguably inconclusive and hastily assembled facial recognition method made it a point to share their thoughts on the matter. "It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger ... It's quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match," wrote Clare Garvie in a Georgetown Law report of the incident.