Officers issued with mobile fingerprint scanners

West Midlands Police last week rolled out 70 handheld fingerprint scanning devices to frontline officers that will allow them to ID crime suspects on the streets in seconds.

Sep 6, 2012
By Paul Jacques

West Midlands Police last week rolled out 70 handheld fingerprint scanning devices to frontline officers that will allow them to ID crime suspects on the streets in seconds.

The pocket-sized devices are satellite-linked to a national fingerprint database and instantly alert officers if the scanned prints belong to a person wanted by police or the courts. Officers can then cross-reference the information against the Police National Computer (PNC).

Police in east Birmingham, plus traffic officers, used the Mobile Identification (MobileID) devices for several months as part of a trial that ended earlier this year.

West Midlands Police Chief Inspector Darren Walsh, who is leading the project, said: “The scanners cut bureaucracy and save countless police hours by keeping officers out on the streets rather than hauling suspects through potentially drawn-out custody procedures.

“Take an example of a warrant executed at an address. We may find several people inside – the scanners tell us immediately whether any of them have a criminal record and subsequently, after running details through PNC, if they are wanted. It also means suspects can’t try providing false details because the device confirms their identity.

“Traditionally, if officers had suspicions about an individual we’d need to take them to a police station, go through the custody process and fingerprint them at the station which could take hours. The MobileID kits quickly confirm whether an arrest is necessary and frees-up officers to be on the streets protecting the public.”

The devices are being shared among neighbourhood police priority action teams, Safer Travel Unit officers patrolling public transport networks, motorways policing and the Guns and Gangs division.

During the pilot scheme, Birmingham officers used them to make swift arrests of burglary suspects and people who’d failed to turn-up for court appearances, while the devices allow traffic patrols to tell instantly if drivers pulled over for motoring offences are trying to evade prosecution by giving false details.

The MobileID project is part of the National Policing Improvement Agency`s (NPIA) Information Systems Improvement Strategy (ISIS), which aims to transform the way police technology is used and managed nationally. The NPIA started making the devices available to police forces in England and Wales in July 2011.

Scanned prints are not permanently stored, but Emma Carr from Big Brother Watch voiced concerns that there was little difference between the use of this mobile technology and the use of ID cards which were scrapped by the current government.

“This appears to be an extension of stop and search powers already held by police officers and it is a cause for concern that this could lead to an increase in innocent individuals being stopped by police,” she said.

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