West Midlands police roll out mobile fingerprint scanners

Hand-held devices will allow police to ID crime suspects on the streets

West Midlands police is to introduce fingerprint scanning devices, which allow officers to find out if a person is wanted by police or the courts.

The force said it plans to roll out 70 hand-held MobileID devices following a successful pilot of the technology. The devices are satellite-linked to a national fingerprint database and instantly alert officers if the scanned prints belong to a convicted criminal. Police can then cross-reference this information against the Police National Computer.

Police in east Birmingham have been trialling the technology for several months and West Midlands said that the devices have been effective. According to the force, the scanners have cut bureaucracy and saved police time by keeping officers out on the streets, rather than having to put suspects through lengthy custody procedures when it may not be necessary.

During the pilot of the devices, officers in east Birmingham were able to make swift arrests of suspected burglars and people who had failed to turn up for court appearances, said West Midlands.

Darren Walsh, chief inspector at the force, said that the devices mean that suspects cannot try and provide false details about their identity.

“Traditionally, if officers had suspicions about an individual we’d need to take them to a police station, go through the custody process, and fingerprint them at the station which could take hours. The MobileID kits quickly confirm whether an arrest is necessary and frees up officers to be on the streets protecting the public,” he said.

The devices are used to check prints against the national database and doesn’t permanently store scanned images, the force said. Walsh added that no information is kept for use at a later date.

Mobile is part of the National Policing Improvement Agency’s (NPIA) Information Systems Improvement Strategy (ISIS), which aims to transform the way police technology is used and managed nationally. The soon to be abolished agency started making the devices available to police forces in England and Wales in July 2011.

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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