California police use wireless fingerprinting on patrol

By John Desmond
eSecurity Planet

Biometric authentication is getting a workout by police in Ontario, Calif., who are using a mobile device capable of using wireless communication to match fingerprints from individuals encountered on patrol to a fingerprint database of 250,000 people arrested over a period of years in the community.

The Ontario police are currently using the Integrated Biometric Identification System (IBIS) device from Identix to record fingerprints in the field. If a match is found, the returned information can provide name, data of birth, any information on arrest warrants, contact information and agency file photos.

"It is innovative," says Ann Punter, forensic manager for the Ontario Police Technology and Special Projects Unit, which designed the system with the assistance of police in Hennepin County, Minn., Identix and with help from a grant from the National Institute of Justice. The IBIS contains a wireless card that communicates over the Sprint network.

The Ontario Police developed the database, called Automated Fingerprint Identification System, on its own. Fingerprints can be scanned into the database, which is not part of the state of California or country fingerprint database, from fingerprint cards. The department found an advantage in keeping the database local.

"If someone wants to burglarize someone''s in order to feed a drug habit, we found they would go down the street and around the corner instead of driving 30 miles down the street," Punter says.

The system has been working effectively since it was first launched as a pilot project in October 2000 with three remote devices. Now 30 IBIS devices are deployed in the field.

"If you know anything about a police officer, if something doesn''t work, they don''t want to use it," Punter says.

The system saves the time of bringing a suspect into the station for identification, and it prevent mistaken identities, such as when a name might match but not the fingerprints. It was also recently used to identify a suicide victim who had hung himself in a local park.

The biometric system is attracting the attention of other departments, and additional grant money recently received has allowed Ontario to offer devices to nearby communities for pilots, including to San Dimas in Los Angeles County.

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