Identification in less than a minute
Last week (10 February 2018), the Home Office announced a successful trial of a new mobile fingerprinting technology which will allow frontline officers across the country to use their smartphones to identify people in less than a minute – saving police time and reducing costs.
An app on an officer’s phone, combined with a handheld scanner, will mean police will be able to check fingerprints against both criminal and immigration records by connecting to the two live databases (IDENT1 and IABS) via the new Biometric Services Gateway.
West Yorkshire Police (WYP), who worked with the Home Office to trial the new system, will begin an initial roll out of 250 scanners to officers in the coming weeks – the app is already available to its 5,500 frontline officers. It is expected that another 20 forces across the country will roll out the system by the end of this year.
The Biometric Services Gateway, enabled by Home Office technology, will also lead to significant costs savings, with the new system available at a fraction of the cost of those currently in use. The scanners used by WYP cost less than £300 – 10% of the cost of current mobile fingerprint systems.
To ensure the information accessed from the Biometric Services Gateway remains secure, fingerprints are not stored and are automatically deleted from the device once they have been checked.
As well as identifying a person of interest who may be withholding their name, the technology enables officers to rapidly identify someone experiencing a medical emergency and make contact with their next of kin.
Early examples of the new system in action include a firearms unit, who detained a driver after a short pursuit and were able to identify him as a disqualified driver, despite him giving false details. He was issued with a summons for three offences and his vehicle seized. The armed response unit returned to patrol within ten minutes, and without the mobile fingerprint scanner this could have resulted in the unit being out of action for four hours taking the individual to a custody suite.
Massive efficiency boost
It seems clear that this is exactly the sort of digital development to make policing more efficient. Provided that the public are reassured that fingerprints are deleted from the system immediately and are not added to the database, there appear to be few downsides.
The only issue I can think of is whether they become an integral part of Stop and Search which may add to tensions between police and BAME communities when used inappropriately.
In the Home Office press release
West Yorkshire Police, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle set out the advantages from a policing viewpoint:
The introduction of these fingerprint devices is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire Police and marks another milestone in our technological ambitions.
As we have already experienced in the trial, the combination of these digital solutions bring tangible benefits to policing our communities.
It means we can submit fingerprints of suspects from the street to a live time national database and receive results in less than a minute.
We have seen first-hand, for instance, how this rapid identification has enabled speedy and accurate medical treatment based on the records available. Its use also allows relatives to attend hospital to see their loved ones when time is of the essence.
From an operational perspective, they quickly open investigative leads into serious crimes and can often reveal the associates of an otherwise unknown victim.
Likewise, they can immediately identify suspects who attempt to give false details and will prompt people to be more forthcoming in the first place.
The added benefit is that they provide greater value for money, which means we can increase their usage across the organisation.
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