Saturday, September 18, 2010
NYPD Gets High-Tech Portable Fingerprint Scanner
New York, NY - The NYPD is armed with a portable gizmo that allows cops to immediately confirm identities at crime scenes with the roll of a thumb.
Police hope the technology - used primarily by the crime scene unit and warrant division - will help speed up investigations by quickly generating names.
They first tested the mobile fingerprint devices about three years ago, using just a few of the gadgets.
In recent weeks, the Police Department added about two dozen more. And they may not be done shopping.
“We’re going to assess the technology and see whether or not we’re going to add more,” said Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, an NYPD spokesman.
Cops using the handheld devices have to ask a person’s permission before taking their prints.
The prints are then run through an electronic statewide database. If there’s a match, police can quickly determine a person’s identity and check for outstanding warrants.
Law enforcement experts say the devices help cut through nonsense on the street when suspects try to stall cops by using a seemingly endless string of aliases.
But not everyone is convinced.
If the NYPD’s use of the devices becomes more widespread, the city may run into a challenge by civil libertarians.
“We hope these machines will promote crime-scene identification and reduce mistaken-identity arrests,” said Chris Dunn, the NYCLU’s associate legal director.
“But I worry they will make it far too easy for the police to take and keep fingerprints and photos of law-abiding people.”
Police officials rejected those concerns.
“If there’s no hit, the fingerprint is erased,” Royster said. “It is not kept on file.”
The NYPD has about 20 of the MorphoTrak readers, at a cost of about $5,000 each.
They not only identify people; they also allow cops to take pictures of potential suspects they can use to show to crime victims.
And they can be used to identify the dead at homicide and accident scenes.
Under Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Police Department has become increasingly dependent on technology, a move that has helped it offset a decrease in the size of the force.
There are about 6,000 fewer officers than there were in 2001.