Automated fingerprinting comes of age
(IDG) -- In Philadelphia, police officers no longer have to wait and wonder about the true identity of the person they've arrested. Using digital fingerprint systems, police can get an ID in just six minutes, so they can make speedy bookings and get back on the streets.
Philadelphia's Automated Fingerprint Identification System network, which links 75 police departments and the Pennsylvania State Police, came online in 1990. Now, law enforcement agencies at all levels of government across the nation are installing their own systems.
Automated fingerprint identification has been a goal of law enforcement officials for a long time. Over the past year or so, fingerprint scanning and identification technology has matured, bringing the speed and reliability the law enforcement community has always envisioned.
It could take anywhere from weeks to more than a year to process standard ink-and-roll 10-print cards. With automated fingerprint systems, many districts now receive IDs in a matter of hours or less. And the new systems, with their clear digital images and high-tech tools, generally avoid the errors that abound processing ink prints.
Of course, results vary from system to system, depending on the underlying technology. The Philadelphia system, based on NEC Technologies Inc.'s AFIS21 and live-scan units from Digital Biometrics Inc., also gives officers access to online booking reports and digitized mug shots in addition to a direct link to a state fingerprint database. The integrated system increases the speed of identification and means city officials can more easily process the 200 to 300 arrests made each day.
According to Harry Giordano, commanding officer of the records and identification unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, the scanning technology and the AFIS network have saved the department time in training and prisoner transport. Suspects used to be transported to central headquarters to be fingerprinted by technicians. Now, the live-scan units that collect fingerprints are easy to use, and fingerprinting is done remotely by officers.
Louisiana last month announced a similar integrated AFIS network, which provides police with access to fingerprints, mug shots and a computerized criminal history system. Implemented by Printrak International Inc., IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp., the network can retrieve all fingerprint data, including latent prints acquired at crime scenes, in 20 to 30 minutes. The system also links to the state's Office of Motor Vehicles and the sheriff's offices in all 64 Louisiana parishes.
Not all states and localities are so advanced, but fingerprint and related systems are springing up all over. In recent months, police departments in Tennessee, Minnesota and Florida have purchased fingerprint systems. The FBI recently brought online a national AFIS database, which may compel more state and local communities to install such systems.
Even some of the early adopters of live-scan technology have had to keep up with the technology curve. Last month, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department finished installing 147 new live-scan units from Digital Biometrics, enabling users to transmit prints electronically to central systems at the sheriff's department and the Los Angeles Police Department.
The county originally installed live-scan fingerprint units to improve the quality of the fingerprints they recorded. But they still printed out cards, which they had to scan into the state AFIS network, said Lt. Greg Morgon, who works in the department's Records and Identification Bureau. This process has evolved into a system that enables the department to send the electronic record directly to the state AFIS, eliminating the intermediate steps.
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