Sheriff's department making new impressions

Digital fingerprinting technology now being used

Staff reporter

Like something out of a futuristic science fiction movie, the palm of the hand is placed on a computerized pad and scanned.

In the snap of two fingers, the image is stored in the computer's hard drive, ready to be summoned and printed.

The technology has been around for 20 years but for law enforcement agencies in Marion County, this new technology will be a time saver and more.

The equipment, a 10-finger and palm print Livescan system, was installed this past week at Marion County Sheriff's Department.

Gone are the pads of ink and mess associated with the traditional method of taking fingerprints.

The sheriff's department is responsible for the booking of offenders who are arrested by city, county, and state law enforcement officers.

In the past, deputies had to wrestle with ink pads and the knowledge that the fingerprints taken and sent to Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab might not be suitable for scanning and filing.

When a subject is arrested, the officer may have only one opportunity to retrieve fingerprints.

With this new method, the prints are more clear and automatically "perfect" for the files for local law enforcement and elsewhere.

"We know this will make us better at taking prints," sheriff Lee Becker said, "because the officers will know they have good prints."

All prints of those arrested on criminal charges are electronically submitted, instead of mailed, to the KBI, some to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

These days law enforcement are required to take more than fingerprints. Prints of a person's palm, hand, and sides of hands, called writer's palm, are taken.

Why do they take imprints from the side of the hand?

"When someone forges a check, the side of the hand might leave an imprint while the check is being written," Becker said. It also helps when criminals cup their eyes to look in windows and other times the sides of the hands leave prints.

Law enforcement also provides fingerprints for background checks for employers and as a way to identify people of interest, including illegal immigrants.

"Illegal immigrants are becoming a more common issue in Marion County and this will help us to positively identify a suspect," Becker said.

With the implementation of this equipment, the Marion County Sheriff's Department now has become compliant with state regulations.

The system also includes a camera that is attached to the cart that houses the scanner and keyboard that are necessary to make fingerprints. The camera can be moved as needed to photograph offenders as another means of identifying and for traditional mug shots when a person is arrested.

The digital system comes with an impressive price tag of around $30,000, but luckily for county taxpayers, the money that purchased the equipment came from a Homeland Security grant.

In the federal grant program, there is a portion that is specifically designated for law enforcement. Becker said he and the police chiefs from the cities within the county meet each year to determine the best use of the grant money.

"The chiefs thought it was a good way to spend the money, and I do, too," Becker said. "It's a tremendous benefit to our county and communities because we will better be able to identify offenders and people of interest."

The prints of a newly arrested person can be compared and matched with the state's file of offenders, and offenders can be registered on the state's site.

Since the system is used nationally and internationally, the basic format will not be obsolete any time soon. Updates of software are routinely performed as with any computer program.

Here's how it works

When a person is to be fingerprinted, a touch-screen monitor is used to prepare a file for the prints.

The person's finger tips are individually rolled across a screen. The computer monitor will let the deputy know if it is an acceptable print or scan, and the deputy can immediately view the print.

The same method is followed for prints of palms, fingers, and sides of hands. With each impression, the computer instructs the deputy to the next sequence.

A photograph then can be taken with the digital camera which is hooked up to the same system.

Within minutes, a complete set of prints and a photograph are available on the computer screen or to be printed.

The information is electronically stored as well as a hard copy filed in the arrested person's paper file. The person's information then can be sent to KBI or FBI through a secured connection.

Copies of the prints are available for law enforcement agencies or employers.

In comparing traditional fingerprint cards with digital, it is obvious that the digital format provides more detailed and consistent prints for local law enforcement, and state and federal officials.

No ink or other preparation is needed before the prints are taken.

About fingerprinting

A fingerprint is an impression of the friction ridges of all or any part of a finger. A friction ridge is a raised portion of the epidermis on the palmar (palm and fingers) skin, consisting of one or more connected ridge units.

A person's fingerprint is unique to that person which is the reason law enforcement obtain and maintain fingerprint records. Even identical twins have different fingerprints.

At crime scenes, investigators might dust objects for fingerprints to use as a comparison with fingerprints on file and possibly identify a suspect.

Typically a fingerprint refers to impressions transferred from the pad or end on the last joint of fingers and thumbs.