North Huntingdon to acquire new fingerprint scanning technology
In a processing room just past a holding cell at the North Huntingdon Township police department, officers meticulously pick up a suspect's fingers and roll them in ink, then blot them on cards for state police and FBI databases.
It's a time-consuming process plagued with challenges that can cause problems that might not be discovered for months. The department, however, hopes to change that by using a grant to acquire a Live Scan machine that captures and digitizes fingerprints without ink.
“If a print is smudged, it can't be used,” Chief Andrew Lisiecki said. “We don't know until it gets sent to state police. The biggest thing we'll get from it, instead of taking months, we'll know if the prints work right then.”
So far, the police departments in the region using the system are Murrysville, Greensburg, New Kensington, Rostraver and Latrobe. Those departments serve as regional booking centers and allow smaller, neighboring departments to use the equipment.
When North Huntingdon acquires the machine, police departments in Irwin, Manor, Trafford and Penn Borough would likely use it, Lisiecki said.
The $50,000 grant, administered through the Regional Booking Center Advisory Committee, would cover the cost of the machine and annual maintenance. North Huntingdon commissioners last month approved Lisiecki's request to apply for the grant.
Money for the grant is generated from a $50 fee assessed to everyone arrested in the county, said Tom Seefeld, chairman of the committee and chief of Murrysville police.
“A lot of departments out there still do the ink fingerprints,” he said. “We've been told ink won't be accepted at some point. When we set this up, we tried to pick (locations) east, west, north and south to make them spread out enough so all departments can go to a regional booking center.”
The machine will also allow police to take palm prints and has a camera for booking photos.
North Huntingdon police currently process suspects the old-fashioned way by rolling both hands in black ink and blotting them on four cards for state police and FBI records. Duplicate cards are made as a precaution if some of the fingerprints are unusable, Lisiecki said.
If the ink smears or a person's finger is sweaty, the ridge details will be too blurred for technicians to use for identification. The process, which takes about 45 minutes, is challenging when incoherent defendants are fingerprinted, he said.
Cards must be mailed to the agencies within 10 days of processing. Sometimes, officers are not alerted to unusable fingerprints until months after they were taken and the defendant has been released.
With the Live Scan machine, fingers are rolled over glass and digitally sent to state police and the FBI. It would cut the processing time in half, taking about 20 minutes, Lisiecki said.
“With Live Scan, when the print is rolled over the glass, it pops up on the screen to let you know if it works,” he said. “What they're trying to get away from is, five or six months down the road, these prints are unusable, and you have to find the person to bring them back in.”
Another benefit police tout is that the system will be able to detect the correct identify of a defendant. Sometimes, people use aliases with no criminal history to elude police, North Huntingdon officer Jay McCurdy said.
“We have people arrested who use siblings' info,” he said. “We wouldn't find out until months later. With Live Scan, the machine tells us, ‘No'.”
Once approved for the grant, state police will evaluate the processing room at the North Huntingdon police department. It could take up to 10 months to install the machine, then train officers.
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.