Police to test fingerprint scanner

by Thomas Douty

As technology decreases the time it takes to identify someone, the rights of the individual will remain intact.
The University Police, through a $1.5 million federal grant, will soon purchase two portable identification units developed by Minnetonka-based Digital Biometrics Inc. University Police is one of six police departments participating in the initial test-phase of the units.
The Remote Data Terminal scans a suspect’s fingerprint at the scene, creates a digital reproduction of the print and sends it to either a federal or local database to be matched with a name, picture and criminal history.
The portable devices will eliminate the need to transport a person into the police station for identification.
“The information can be delivered right to your hand,” said Jack Hendrickson, director of sales for Identification Based Information Systems at DBI.
The University Police will use its portion of the grant to purchase two of the $15,000 units. The remainder of its grant will be spent on software to connect the scanners to the department’s current database and training.
Hendrickson said the units will begin to drop in price once a production line is developed after the first group is tested.
Although the process of identifying a person might be faster and easier with the new devices, the policies and rights of the individual will not change.
An officer must still have probable cause before they approach someone.
University Police Capt. Steve Johnson said the same rules would apply for walking up to someone and asking for identification.
The units will dramatically speed the process of identifying suspects, Johnson said.
The time it takes to identify a suspect with the scanners depends on the speed of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The actual transfer of data from the hand-held unit to the database is less than half a minute.
“The time it takes to look up the fingerprint is going to be the decider,” Hendrickson said.
He added that the new portable units are comparable to having the power of a workstation with you.
“What it means is you can be right on the field and identify somebody on the spot and it’s not intrusive,” Johnson said.
But before the new scanners are put into use, University officials will have to establish official policy and training guides.
DBI and the police departments involved are in the final stages of signing a contract. Once the contract is signed, it will be one to two months before University Police receives the two units.
The federally funded Community Oriented Policing Service grant was supplied to the police departments to begin testing devices that might someday make their way into every squad car in the nation.
Roseann Campagnoli, public information officer for Hennepin County, said University Police is one of the first to receive the units because they helped secure the federal grant necessary to begin the program.
Hennepin County and Ramsey County sheriff’s departments, Bloomington Police Department and two California police departments will also receive test units.
Campagnoli is confident that this is just the first phase of an ongoing modernization of police departments.
“After the test period, you will find lots more of them,” she said.

Thomas Douty welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.