UPPER BUCKS POLICE A STEP CLOSER TO HIGH-TECH IDENTIFICATION GEAR
STATE AGENCY APPROVES CONSORTIUM'S APPLICATION FOR EQUIPMENT THAT CAN PROCESS; ARRESTS QUICKLY FROM A CENTRAL LOCATIONThe Morning Call (Allentown) -- A few weeks back, police from several area departments nabbed a van packed with people suspected of stealing merchandise from the Richland Township Wal-Mart. The first thing the suspects gave the officers was the runaround -- phoney names, false addresses, the works. But all that changed when police took them to the Towamencin Township police department in Montgomery County, which houses a high-tech fingerprinting and photo-imaging system. Within minutes, police had identified the suspects, checked whether they were wanted for other crimes, and quickly booked them. These wonders of modern crimefighting technology might soon be coming to Upper Bucks through a state grant and the cooperation of nine police departments. The 'Offender Identification and Central Booking Project' allows groups of police departments to purchase and maintain computerized fingerprinting equipment and photo-imaging systems that are linked to county and state agencies in a central location. Their use could help make the booking process more efficient by helping police identify wanted criminals quicker, cutting the time it takes to process prints and pictures with the state, and allowing for more consistency in the booking process. The Upper Bucks consortium received word in March that the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency -- the agency that oversees the grant awards -- had approved their application for the project. Pennridge Regional Police Chief H. Randall Dilling said the grant for the fingerprinting and photo-imaging equipment will be awarded in August. 'It's quite a tool,' said Perkasie Police Chief Tim Dickinson. 'Right now everything is done manually and takes so much time. With this system, should we be fortunate enough for it to come to fruition, the whole process allows for a quick entry, an automatic identification if the person has been arrested before, and several views of their face and any tattoos and scars.' The nine members of the consortium included in the grant application are Bedminster, Dublin, Hilltown, Pennridge Regional, Perkasie, Quakertown, Richland, Springfield and Tinicum police departments. The geography that these departments cover was one of the selling points for the grant, said Bedminster Chief Robert Glosson, who took the lead in writing the application. 'As a group, we represent a little bit more than half of the county, landwise,' said Glosson. 'As individual departments, we couldn't afford the equipment. Working together, we can take advantage of the technically advanced systems that meet national standards.' Dilling of Pennridge agreed that the regional effort had merit. 'The equipment is very expensive -- more than $ 100,000,' said Dilling. 'That'd be totally out of reach for most of the 1,200 police departments in the commonwealth -- but not when you block together like this.' The grant provides 75 percent of the cost to purchase the equipment from the state and requires the departments to make up the remaining 25 percent. Additionally, departments will have to pay a monthly maintenance fee -- likely to be around $ 200 -- to use the central booking center. One of the potential stumbling blocks to banding together, however, is the challenge of reaching consensus. Already, at least one department among the nine has expressed concern over placement of the new booking center. Earlier this week, the consortium looked at sites in East and West Rockhill townships, and Glosson said the group plans to check out a site in Quakertown later this month. Most of the departments have said they'll travel whatever distance is needed to use the new equipment, but Quakertown Police Chief James McFadden said his department's participation hinges on a convenient location. 'Depending on where it's housed affects whether Quakertown participates,' he said. Glosson said group's site when the center opens, likely at the end of this year or early in 2001, probably will be temporary. The consortium and the county are looking to add a third element to the high-tech booking center -- a video-arraignment arrangement -- that could be part of a new county services building, or another building. There are more than 70 central booking sites in Pennsylvania that use at least one of the three new technologies, said Alison Delsite, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. 'We've been encouraging counties and police departments to create these central booking centers for a number of reasons,' said Delsite, mentioning the cost-effectiveness, ability to put police back on the streets and consistency in fingerprinting and photographing the suspects. 'But the main idea behind this is efficiency.'