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New technology helps police fight crime

The effort is about one-third as much. The results are invaluable.

Old-fashioned ink fingerprints are now a thing of the past for Federal Way police, and the so-called Live Scan system that replaces it could help collar criminals that would otherwise have slipped through undetected.

Joining the American Fingerprint Identification System, (AFIS), Federal Way officers no longer have to take three sets of black ink prints, scan them arduously into a computer and wait for the results to return.

With the new computer technology, fingers and thumbs are scanned directly into the computer. Appropriate numbers are entered to match up the crimes for which the suspect may later be charged.

While DNA evidence has played a huge role in isolating suspects in some of the most grisly cases — including Gary Leon Ridgway, recently charged in connection with four murders believed to have been committed by the Green River Killer — fingerprints are often what set police on a path to narrowing the field of suspects, said Cathy Schrock, Federal Way police records coordinator.

“They are the basis for solving many, many crimes,” Schrock said.

The AFIS system has at least three major benefits.

* Quick identification of people booked into jail. Detained suspects often use aliases, particularly when they have outstanding warrants. AFIS verifies many of these people before suspects are re-released.

* Reporting of criminal history information to the FBI and Washington State Patrol, the state repository for criminal history information. Local law enforcement agencies are required to send two fingerprint cards and associated charge information to the State Patrol.

* Supporting crime scene investigations. Fingerprints lifted from a crime scene are crucial to identifying suspects and assist in convicting criminals.

Kurt Schwan, Federal Way crime prevention officer, is only beginning to use the system, but he’s already appreciating its benefits.

When the scanned prints are sent to the national database, Federal Way police can expect to know if there are possible matches within minutes, usually less than a half-hour, Schwan said.

There’s no loss from going away from the inked fingerprint cards, Schwan said.

“We gain a lot,” he said.

The money going to pay for the latest fingerprint scanning technology was approved by King County voters The AFIS program is paid for by a five-year operating levy, which was passed for the second time last year, Schrock said.

It’s also much faster than conventional ink fingerprinting – with much less mess.

“I can book someone in less than 10 minutes,” she said. “I know that they’re doing that at the King County Jail at that speed.

Just a few months ago, a booked prisoner required three rolled fingerprint cards showing 10 prints. Once completed, the cards are routed through the police records unit to check the process for accuracy before being forwarded to the National Crime Information Center in Washington D.C., as well as the Washington State Patrol.

“Before we had Live Scan, these fingerprints had to be scanned in from ink prints. It could take hours,” Schrock said.

All criminals are put into AFIS for every crime they commit, and are copied to the State Patrol’s “rap sheet.”

“Those two work synonymously, but separately” Schrock said.

Most aliases used by suspects are caught immediately and added to the rap sheet.

“This is how the database works and how it grew,” Schrock said. “What this is doing, is it will be able to eliminate human interaction so that we will just be able to process so much more. In mid 2002, there won’t be any human interaction at all.”

But the point is, Schrock said, more warrants and convictions will be caught by officers as they see records before a criminal can re-offend.

“If those convictions aren’t (in the system), they get to buy the gun,” Schrock explained.

While Federal Way has yet to break a big case with AFIS, Des Moines police arrested a man on a misdemeanor charge and found him to be a liar.

“Within minutes, they said here is your person,” Schrock said. “This is where he’s wanted. And he was wanted for homicide.”

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