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August 04, 2004
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'Fast ID' system would mean quicker bookings; Wisconsin police adopt biometrics system

By Heather Asiyanbi
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mount Pleasant, Wisc. Criminals who think that they can slip through the cracks of law enforcement by giving false names and addresses when they''re arrested will have to think again.

Thanks to a $2,000 grant awarded by the state Department of Justice to the Mount Pleasant Police Department, a new "Fast ID" automated fingerprint identification system device has become part of the regular booking process, according to Lt. Tom Petersen.

The device uses biometric technology to encode the prints off two fingers of a suspect, sends the prints to the state Department of Justice and waits to see if the prints belong to someone matching a state identification number.

Biometrics uses unique physical characteristics to confirm identification or to identify a person or small number of people from a pool. Fingerprints are the most widely known physical characteristic, but there are also technologies that use voice, iris and facial recognition as well.

Mount Pleasant''s system only works if the suspect being booked has already been assigned a state ID number and has fingerprints on file.

And while that may seem like a rather large crack to slip through, given the high percentage of repeat offenders, both misdemeanor and felony, Petersen looks forward to the booking process becoming quicker.

"One of the biggest frustrations for officers is filling out paperwork for an individual who has given false information only to have to start over with fresh paperwork once the person''s real ID is discovered," he said. "The Fast ID system eliminates that problem."

Petersen said the technology allows police officers from all over the state to apprehend suspects who may be wanted in other cities in Wisconsin.

"Even if it''s shoplifting locally, maybe someone is wanted in another city for a different crime and has a prior conviction. This new system will allow us to not only identify suspects faster, but also prosecute and convict them as well," he said.

SAGEM Morpho Inc. manufactures biometric identification products used by law enforcement agencies across the country, said David Stevenson, company spokesman.

"Forensic identification, which is what you see on fictional crime dramas on TV, uses both the biometric technology and trained experts to match fingerprints, but most local law enforcement use the AFIS Fast ID device because they mostly deal with known prints and the names that go with those prints," he said.

Petersen would like to see an AFIS Fast ID cooperative system between neighboring states like Wisconsin and Illinois and can see the technology heading in that direction.

The technology is already there, though with a few conditions and restrictions.

There is the possibility of using the technology to catch criminals from other states though there are specific criteria that must be met before that happens.

The FBI maintains an electronic AFIS system into which states may feed information for use by other states, to help catch criminals who have fled from the area in which they are either wanted or were convicted.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief James Majdoch looks forward to improvements in the technology that will put the Fast ID device into squad cars for even better efficiency and to help crime victims more quickly.

"Technology is always improving, so it would be great to get (the Fast ID) into the squad cars and not just in the office," he said. "But think about the reassurance this gives victims of crime, too. The faster we can get the suspects off the street and into custody, the better they feel, and that''s really important."

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