New fingerprint technology will be in use

Investigator Tom Johnson says the new Automated Fingerprint Identification System will offer Richmond County access to the federal database of prints.

Soon, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Crime Scene Unit will have a better chance of catching criminals through an upgrade in the state’s fingerprint identification technology.

Starting Monday, the Georgia Bureau of In­vestigation will expand its Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to include palm prints and access to the federal database, among other upgrades.

“Right now, about half of the prints we find at scenes are palm prints,” crime scene unit Investigator Steve Fanning said. “This upgrade will be a huge help.”

The system will not be pre-loaded with palm prints, and therefore is a database starting from scratch, but many crime scene units around the state have been collecting palm prints since notice of the upgrade possibility in 2010, Fanning said.

About two years ago, the GBI met with users around the state and asked what they would like to see in the next generation of AFIS.

“They wanted palm prints,” said Neil Gersten­berger, assistant deputy director for the Georgia Crime Information Center. “It enables the system to have a series of prints, which will help make quicker and more accurate identifications.”

Now, the system only holds the first print, whether or not it is a good one. The new system will house every print, increasing the chances for a match.

The second big improve­ment will be access to the federal database, said Investigator Tom Johnson, who is also with the Rich­mond County Crime Scene Unit.

“If we run the print and can’t get a match off of the GBI’s database, we can run it against a federal database,” Johnson said.

Each participating user was issued new equipment. The new system includes a scanner and a new microscope to use in case the print is on an object and too fragile to remove.

The old system has limited maneuverability, Johnson said. And although it has the ability to scan and upload fingerprints from an outside source, it rarely works.

The new system comes with a new scanner attached to the computer which will allow for accurate uploading.

But contrary to television shows like CSI, neither system has the ability to find an exact match. That determination is still up to the investigators.

AFIS runs the print and produces 10 to 20 potential matches, ranked by score. Investigators use those matches to make a positive match with their eyes.

“We have made matches to the eighth or ninth scored print,” Johnson said.

After a match is made, the investigator passes the potential match to another co-worker who will double-check it.

“It is ultimately a human decision,” Gerstenberger said. “That has not changed.”

Johnson said fingerprint, and now palm print, identification is the quickest way for investigators to make a positive identification.

He said sometimes when the team gets really good prints now, one person will leave a crime scene to run them.

“Last month we made seven of 11 positive IDs,” he said. “This system works. A better one only improves our chances.”

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