Every field of endeavor has a holy grail, a technology that is so advanced that it would radically change or improve the performance of people in that field. For law enforcement, one of the holy grails is true facial recognition-an identification system so sophisticated that it can pick out a suspect in a crowd surveillance video regardless of beards, hats, or movement.
The technology that will permit you to perform such magic isn't quite ready for prime time, but it's coming. The Department of Homeland Security and DARPA are throwing wads of money at facial recognition research.
However, just because facial recognition is not quite ready to live up to the hype that was generated about it shortly after 9/11, that doesn't mean that biometric technology has no value to law enforcement.
Currently, biometric systems are being used every day by officers in two distinct missions: security and identification. And they can be very useful.
Keeping People Out
One of the most common uses of biometric systems worldwide is biometric security technology. Consumers now have access to laptop computers secured by fingerprint scanners, manufacturers use iris scanners to limit access to sensitive areas, and there are even inexpensive safes and gun storage systems such as GunVault that feature thumbprint locks.
In law enforcement, biometric security devices are being used to secure firearms such as in the Ancom fingerprint-RFID system and on computers that store confidential reports, evidence, and databases. A good example of this kind of technology is Bio-Key International's PocketCop. This product allows officers in the field to gain access to license plate databases through a smartphone such as a RIM Blackberry. PocketCop secures the database with a hard target thumb print reader, preventing any unauthorized access.
The Soldotna (Alaska) Police Department is using PocketCop in the field. Before it adopted the system, officers were required to call a regional dispatch for background info on a subject. Now, the officer has access to this information, including photos, at the scene.
Cutting Through Aliases
According to some statistics, nearly 60 percent of all suspects booked by American law enforcement officers have aliases. Navigating through a bewildering list of street names, gang nicknames, and false identities is one of the toughest and most tedious jobs facing criminal investigators.
That's why a number of high-tech vendors have developed biometric identification systems that no criminal can defeat. These biometric systems break down into three basic categories: facial recognition systems, fingerprint applications, and iris readers.
Facial recognition systems can be used both in the field and in a processing facility at booking or release. One of the most popular is Cross Match Technologies FaceCheck, a Linux-based software application. Using a digital imaging recorder and FaceCheck, officers can capture facial images and automatically compare them against a database of people on watch lists. If an image gets a hit, FaceCheck sends an alert to the operator.
Fingerprints have been used to identify criminal suspects for more than a century. Now they can be used to identify people on the street. Using a fingerprint ID system such as BlueCheck from Cogent Systems, officers can learn the true ID of a person of interest very quickly. The BlueCheck scanner sends the scan via Bluetooth connection to the officer's smartphone, which can send it to AFIS or other databases for rapid identification of the subject.
Iris recognition is based on the fact that no two people have the same iris patterns in their eyes. Iris readers are much more accurate and much faster than retinal scanners. In fact, one of the leading providers of iris recognition technology for law enforcement, L-1 Identity Solutions, says that its SIRIS product is the fastest biometric identification system available. Using a special camera called an iris imager, an officer captures an image of the subject's iris. The SIRIS system then uses special algorithms to analyze the iris and compare it to a database of iris scans. This technology is in its infancy, but it has great potential. So someday, you may carry an iris scanner in your patrol car.
Biometric technology has a great future in law enforcement.
On a grand scale it offers the potential to identify known terrorists in an airport before they board a plane.
At the local level, officers nationwide are beginning to enjoy its benefits by using it to secure sensitive data and equipment and cut through the pile of aliases used by street thugs.
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