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New Fingerprint Technology IDs the Bad Guys Faster Than Ever

Say goodbye to all that black ink and say hello to electronic imaging.

January 01, 2002  |  by Dan Burger

Technology is revolutionizing law enforcement. It has become an almost indispensable tool and will become even more relevant as advances become more commonplace throughout the nation. Take fingerprint technology, for instance. The fingerprint has always been one of law enforcement’s most solid, undefeatable bits of evidence. Matching prints can be as good as gold.

Fingerprint technology has developed more in its past 15 years than it did in the first 100 years. Advancements in technology have led to new capabilities allowing investigators to pull prints from surfaces that used to be very difficult or even impossible.

For instance, image enhancement systems are being used to remove backgrounds that make the print difficult to distinguish, making it easier to see, and therefore accurately identify, the fingerprint. Some labs have found a creative use for Super Glue because it permanently bonds fingerprints to non-porous objects, which have always posed problems when attempts were made to lift a print. Other methods that are being used to discover latent prints involve lasers and ultraviolet light.

It’s true that the majority of fingerprint identifications simply eliminate from the investigation fingerprints belonging to the victim or the victim's family, but the remaining prints are photographed and entered into the fingerprint identification system. This was once a cumbersome file that was somewhat comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. At least that analogy seems appropriate now that computers automatically compare prints against millions of others in databases that are local, statewide and nationwide. The system generates a list of possible matches, and the technician’s job is to determine if there is a match.

Fingerprint recognition technologies, like any developing technology, can be monstrously expensive. Government grant money is often behind an agency’s efforts to implement new tools and progressive systems. However, some of these innovations are also available at prices affordable for smaller departments. At the high end are complete fingerprint identification search systems, but systems are also available with the basic fingerprint image-processing algorithms including a search/matching subsystem.

Some of the key considerations when comparing system features include:

Image processing, which captures fingerprint images and processes them to obtain a clear image of the original impression while clarifying smudged areas, removing extraneous background and even healing scars, cuts and breaks in the print. Finger placement and finger orientation may be critical for certain equipment and not for others.

Feature detection is a process that identifies ridge ends and bifurcations within the image. The software encodes them while providing critical placement, orientation and linkage information for the technician who ultimately makes the match. Whether the fingerprint is scanned, camera captured or inked they are sometimes blurred, smudgy or otherwise unclear. Certain software compensates for these irregularities while other software doesn’t. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. The search for matching prints compares data from the input print against all appropriate records in the database. Some systems are superior when it comes to matching poor quality prints. Accuracy of search is obviously an important criterion so in the purchasing process it is wise to inquire about performance comparisons.

Fingerprint identification systems are designed to provide fingerprint scans two ways: from a ten print card (arrest card or otherwise) or from a live finger scan device. Live scanning is inkless electronic fingerprinting (capturing fingerprints by rolling the fingers on a glass platen), which allows the fingerprints to be digitized.

You can now instantaneously match a subject to his fingerprints, a much more reliable way to ID a subject than tracing a license plate number.

The system often – but not always – is linked to a database that determines if there are matching fingerprints in the criminal record database. When possible ten print matches are detected, they are displayed to a fingerprint technician who determines positive identification. If there is no match, updating to the database can be initiated and notification is produced that a new person has entered the system.

The key points to any system include accuracy, reliability, ease of use, open system design (compatibility to various computer platforms), easy serviceability and expandability.

One of the most innovative companies, and one of the leaders in identification technologies and systems, is Visionics Corporation. It has introduced several products – IBIS, TENPRINTER, FingerPrinter CMS, FaceIt and BNP – that are providing law enforcement with high tech improvements that will shape future investigation and crime prevention methodology.

The product with the greatest potential to impact officers in the short-term is IBIS, a revolutionary mobile identification system that captures forensic quality fingerprints and photographs. TENPRINTER and FingerPrinter CMS are live scan systems, which capture fingerprint images without the use of ink. Law enforcement, government agencies, airports, banks and other commercial institutions are increasingly using these systems.

FaceIt is a widely deployed facial recognition software that allows computers to rapidly and accurately detect and recognize faces. Its uses include ID verification, surveillance, information security and banking. BNP incorporates FaceIt technology for implementation over large-scale networks and real-time identification.

IBIS is a handheld portable device known as a remote data terminal (RDT), which captures data (including photographs), forensic-quality fingerprint images and magnetic stripe data. The data is transmitted wirelessly to a laptop in a squad car and to the central IBIS server via the police radio communication system or cellular communications. At the IBIS server, the data is processed and transferred to one or more AFIS databases. If a fingerprint match exists, identification information is transferred back to the RDT. If there is no match, the fingerprint and photo files are discarded from the system.

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