Budget constraints previously did not allow the Gainesville Police Department access to a federal fingerprint database.
Fingerprint analyses were outsourced to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation already bloated with casework.
Now, police have the training and access to run fingerprints through a federal database.
“We just went online with the new technology last week,” investigator Dan Schrader said. “We actually finished the training last Thursday. I had to have a few days to play with it and figure out what I was doing.”
The federal government, through its own technological advancement, was able to make the
change in 2012.
“The way it used to work, you had to have a stand-alone computer system which met certain specifications, and it went through a dial-up email service that you had to pay a monthly service fee for. So on top of your initial expense, you had the monthly expense,” he said. “Well, now it’s all free. It’s just an online software-based system, and it doesn’t cost us a dime to use.”
In a time when agencies have to pinch pennies, that meant a great deal, he said.
“Even with the horrible economic status, since this technology became available, we were able to access it,” he said.
Schrader is a crime scene investigator who has run the department’s Automatic Fingerprint Identification System for years.
“The system we had before — we still have it. The AFIS tracker.”
He explained the basic process.
“When we get latent prints in from a crime scene, we can scan them into the system and search them against a known database and try to identify potential donors or candidates — however you want to put it — and that’s been quite successful,” he said. “We have built up a local database of known people who have been arrested, and we’ve used that for the last couple (of) years. We’ve built up a pretty substantial database, and we’ve made multiple hits, so it’s really the last year or so that that has really been fruitful.”
Federal databases incorporate fingerprints from every state.
“Each state has an AFIS data base. The federal government has basically linked those together, making one big huge hub called Integrated AFIS. That’s the easiest way to put it — they just kind of linked all the states together.”
Now, Georgia has access to that I-AFIS database.
“I can send a latent print, I can scan it in through this system here,” Schrader said, motioning to a computer. “It sends through the law enforcement online secure website email service, and it will automatically search that latent print through the federal database, and electronically send the results back — the top 20 candidates.”
Matching fingerprints is a delicate science that requires algorithms and a human eye, he said.
“You still have to have the examiner go through and visually make the comparisons and if you have a match, you have to have another examiner verify your findings,” he said.
The GBI is clogged with casework, he said.
“I have fingerprints that have been down at the crime lab for a year, or better part of a year, and they haven’t been assigned to an examiner,” Schrader said. “So basically what this allows us to do is streamline our process.
I can run a search against our local database. If I don’t get a hit, I can run a search against the federal database. It’s streamlined our time.”
Hall County has had access to the I-AFIS software for four years because of its participation in the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program, sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.
“They’ve been utilizing that down at the jail. That’s been in place since the inception of (the) AFIS system,” he said.
He said that if crime scene investigators needed the software, they could go to the jail to access it.
Kevin Holbrook, spokesman for the Gainesville police, was unsure if the software used by Hall County to enforce 287(g) had as sophisticated a search capability as the department’s new program.
One thing is certain: the technology gets results. Schrader hit a match within the first few days of using it, he said.
“I’ve only run a handful of prints through, and as a matter of fact, we matched one up yesterday, and had it verified today. So it’s already started working for us,” he said. “It’s a great thing.”