Prints on patrol: Minnesota county puts fingerprint system into squad cars

Project at a glance

Who: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension


Mission: Develop accurate, portable identification tools for on-the-spot fingerprint capture by law enforcement officers


What was: About 40 percent of people stopped by police don't give proper identification. Sometimes officers let them go, only to find out later there were outstanding warrants. Or, they detained people unnecessarily.


What is: The Integrated Biometric Identification System lets officers check a person's fingerprints and photo image on a wireless device and transmit them to a central site, which compares the images against several law en-forcement databases. If there's a match, the subject's name and date of birth are transmitted back to the officer within three minutes.


Users: Police officers and sheriff's deputies in more than 30 Minnesota agencies and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. About 60 IBIS devices are currently in use.


Impact: Officers have conducted more than 2,700 searches with IBIS, positively identifying more than 430 subjects in law enforcement databases. Police officers learn within minutes whether they have pulled over a suspected or wanted criminal, or a person with no prior record.


Duration: Less than 18 months from the initial contract in July 2000 to deployment in November 2001. A subsequent upgrade was completed a little more than a year ago. Total development time: about three years.

Printing out: The IBIS team includes, front from left, Deputy Jim Bayer, Chief Deputy Michele Smolley and David Freeman, county IT supervisor. Behind them, from left, Capt. Rick Mulek, Kevin Johnson of Indetix, Neal Johnson of Printrak, Tony Misslin and Jack Hendrickson of Indetix, Jerry Olson of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, David Hall of Printrak, Hennepin County Jail records manager Susan Anderson, Sgt. Kurt Meyer and Sgt. Steve Tait.

Allen Brisson Smith

About 40 percent of motorists stopped by police in Minnesota don't have proper identification, such as a driver's license. And on not-so-rare occasions, people don't give their real names.

'Sometimes officers would let someone go and find out later that they released a seriously wanted individual,' said Kevin Johnson, program manager at Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn.

The officers had to rely on a cop's intuition'a vital but not infallible resource.

Three years ago, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office decided to supplement its officers' intuition with wireless handheld devices that interface with an Automated Fingerprint Identification System database on a secure server at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Working with the bureau, the Sheriff's Office began testing the Integrated Biometric Identification System in November 2001. IBIS runs on adapted Hewlett-Packard iPaq handheld PCs under the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system.

A unit 'looks kind of like a DustBuster,' said Jerry Olson, project manager with the Minnesota bureau. The part of a DustBuster that produces suction roughly parallels the location of IBIS' fingerprint scanner, an optical sensor with a glass platen.

The unit also has a small, high-resolution analog National Television System Committee standard camera. The camera captures fingerprint images from the platen. The IBIS unit can be plugged into a squad car's cigarette lighter or run on camcorder batteries.

When an officer fingerprints someone, he can preview the print quality with the Identix software before he transmits it to the wireless server. If a print has too much moisture, for example, it will show up only as a blob. If the finger is too dry, the skin won't contact the platen adequately.

The Identix screen capture software saves the print as a 500-dpi image, in accordance with National Institute of Standards and Technology digital fingerprint standards.

Using software from Dynamic Imaging Systems Inc. of Marlton, N.J., a camera subunit also can take digital mug shots and transmit them wirelessly. The IBIS server initially was a Dell PowerEdge 2650 running Java2 Enterprise Edition and using Cellular Digital Packet Data connections over a frame relay network.

In the past year, the wireless portion has been upgraded to the movianVPN virtual private network client from Certicom Corp. of Mississauga, Ontario, and Mobility software from NetMotion Wireless Inc. of Seattle.

IBIS needs only two prints, from the left and right index fingers. It can match them against fingerprints stored in law enforcement databases, using Omnitrak AFIS tools from Printrak International Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., a division of Motorola Inc.

The IBIS server 'works as a kind of switchboard, handling the image traffic from the wireless devices,' said David Freeman, IT supervisor for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

IBIS can be configured to work with any back-end fingerprint database, Johnson said, including those of the FBI's National Crime Information Center, warrant files, computerized criminal history databases, gang files and jail management files.

If a person has never been fingerprinted, the server will transmit the words 'No Ident' to the officer's screen. If there is a match, the server forwards the person's name and birth date. It usually takes less than three minutes from sending the prints to receiving a response.

'After a few traffic stops, the officers who used it liked it quite a bit,' Freeman said. 'It all came down to wanting to give them the opportunity to make a more informed decision.'

With a desktop IBIS unit at the entrance to the Hennepin County jail facility, booking officers can perform a quick fingerprint scan as soon as a suspect arrives. Since January, the booking officers have conducted more than 2,200 IBIS searches at the jail and identified more than 1,500 people'a hit rate better than 70 percent.

IBIS improves fairness, Olson said. 'It's fair to them if they're criminals, and fairer still to noncriminals,' he said.

Encryption a must

One of the IBIS team's main concerns was the risk of transmitting private data wirelessly. 'We had to make sure that if anything was intercepted, it was encrypted,' Olson said. All transmissions use 56-bit Data Encryption Standard security. The state is considering an upgrade to Triple DES or the Advanced Encryption Standard.

The small size of the IBIS handhelds makes them portable, but it also poses challenges. Squeezing so much information'names, birth dates, outstanding warrants'onto a 320- by 240-pixel color screen while ensuring readability wasn't easy, Olson said.

But Johnson said the small size means IBIS can be used by police anywhere''in squad cars, on horseback and, especially in Minnesota, on snowmobiles.'

Freeman said the team is looking at the Global Justice Extensible Markup Language 3.0 object-oriented data model for populating databases and generating XML data in a standard form for easy sharing.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above