a ‘Game Changer’ for Police
Sheriff’s deputies in a Florida beach town were arresting a man who supplied no identification and gave a suspicious-sounding name. Right there in the public park, the authorities pulled out a
new crime-fighting tool: a mobile fingerprint scanner. They identified
the man with his real name—complete with warrants for kidnapping,
sexual battery and armed robbery charges attached. The arrest is one of
the latest examples of mobile technology improving the capabilities of
law enforcement out in the field—a trend that is expanding nationwide.
“It’s a game-changer for law enforcement,” said Bill Schade, the
biometrics records manager for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in
Florida, the agency that made the arrest.
The deputies were using the Morpho Trak mobile fingerprint scan-
ner, which is in use in five states, and continues to spread to local and
regional agencies, according to the company. They include the Arizona
“There are quite a few states coming online,” said Mike French, a forensic biometric
subject matter expert for Morpho Trak. “Pretty soon it’s going to be standard.”
The technology’s power is in its simplicity. Pressing one finger, then another
against the scanner screen of the device is all that’s needed to then scan federal,
state and local databases. The device—the size of a cell phone—buzzes when it
comes up with an ID hit.
“It’s really designed to do one thing—and do it well,” he said.
Mobile fingerprinting first became possible about 10 years ago. But it’s only in the
last few years that the technology itself has made it quicker and more accurate.
The latest scanners hit the Pinellas County streets in January, and so far, there have been
no legal issues arising from the use of the mobile fingerprint technology. Suspects who can be
arrested would be fingerprinted back at a police station anyway, so essentially the mobile device is using the
same legal powers, just in a quicker turnaround, Schade said.
In Pinellas County, there are 65 devices shared among the deputies. Each device costs around $1500. The
device proved its worth early on when a quick-hit on an anonymous man being booked at the county jail,
“The power of police is not the gun or the nightstick—it’s the information we have,” said Schade. “I think
we should be using biometrics for everything.”
Mobile investigative technology is continuing to improve. Currently in development are apps for iPhones,
which would allow any standard phone to perform the same fingerprint check on the fly, and mobile forensics
that can analyze evidence and provide investigative leads quicker. A forensics expert at a crime scene could
collect evidence by tablet, send it back to the lab, and start getting results before even departing.
“It could make a huge difference in not only major crimes,” Schade said, “but minor crimes, too.”
Seth Augenstein is a science writer at Advantage Business Media. He previously worked as a crime reporter for the
The Star-Ledger. His work can be found on the Forensic Magazine website and at www.sethaugenstein.com.
The mobile fingerprint scanner gives law
enforcement the ability to identify individuals
in the field saving time and manpower.