Police Get Power to Check Prints On The Spot


Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian

Portland police may soon be asking for more than a license when making a traffic stop, but also requesting a motorist to stick out a thumb and forefinger.

Next month, more than a dozen officers will carry handheld devices on the street that will allow them to instantly verify a person's identity by analyzing their fingerprints.

The Portland Police Bureau was awarded a $250,000 federal COPS grant to equip each of its five precincts with a device and distribute another 10 to investigative officers in the detective, gang enforcement, drugs and vice, and tactical operations divisions.

The Minnesota-based Identix manufactures the technology, which captures fingerprints at the scene and remotely transmits them to a database. The Portland police will run the prints against the FBI's automated fingerprint database, and a database of seven Western states, known as the Western Identification Network.

If there is a match, the system returns the person's name, date of birth and mug shot directly to the officer's handheld terminal, the size of a Palm Pilot. Then the officer can check the person's criminal history and search for any outstanding warrants.

Manufacturers and police tout the time it could save officers, keeping them from needlessly transporting suspects to a police precinct or jail to fingerprint them.

"With shrinking budgets and shrinking staff, we need to capitalize on emerging technology," said Capt. Greg Hendricks, of the bureau's identification division.

Within a year, the bureau intends to expand the pilot purchase of 15 to more than 300 terminals for all patrol officers, under $650,000 set aside for the Portland police by the U.S. Department of Justice and recently approved by Congress.

The devices will also give officers on horseback, bicycles and motorcycles, who do not have the mobile computer terminals that patrol officers have at their fingertips, the ability to access information on people they stop.

"It speeds up the process for the officer to confirm who they've stopped, and reduces mistaken identities on arrests," said Sgt. Jeff Kaer of the bureau's identification division.

Next week, the bureau has invited representatives from 15 police agencies, sheriff's offices and federal law enforcement in the metropolitan area to learn about the handheld fingerprinting device and gauge if there's interest in integrating them into a regional database that could give officers in the field immediate access to criminal histories on suspects in a four-county region. The counties include Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark.

"If we integrated this system regionally, all of the agencies could share information with each other," Kaer said. "As you know, crime doesn't stop at the city line."

The City Council is expected to approve the bureau's contract with Identix at its meeting next week.

The same handheld device is also capable of facial recognition, a an emerging technology now used by a number of law enforcement agencies to find wanted criminals whose faces are in databases. Border patrol agencies have used the facial-recognition component to run the faces of people coming into the country against a database of photos of suspected terrorists.

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