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Portable Scanner Will Speed Police Fingerprint Checks

April 17, 1998|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

A portable scanner that can read fingerprints was hailed Thursday as a crucial development that will help police identify people, including criminal suspects, by comparing the prints with a central file within five minutes.

"It's the best thing to come along since the police radio," said Robert Worland, a criminal justice specialist with NEC Technologies Inc., which developed the scanner. "It's going to be a big tool for police agencies."

Representatives of NEC demonstrated their development in hope of getting law-enforcement agencies in Orange County to buy the scanners. Each costs about $2,500.

Police officials said the scanners will speed up accurate identifications. They said the devices will may make it less likely for innocent people to be arrested.

"It identifies the right people very quickly," said La Habra Police Chief Steven H. Staveley.

Officers can take a fingerprint scan and compare it to up to 2,000 prints stored on a disk. They may also download the information into their squad car computers, which compares the sample to millions of fingerprints stored in data bases.

"It's a great tool," Huntington Beach Police Lt. Luis Ochoa said.

A computer identification system that maintains a database of palm print impressions for matching also was demonstrated.

"It's a huge breakthrough. We've been waiting for this for a long time," Cheryl L. Turnwall, a forensic specialist with the Huntington Beach Police Department.

Sometimes palm prints are the only ones available at a crime scene, said Turnwall. Palm prints can be used like fingerprints to solve crimes, Turnwall said.

Both the hand-held scanner and the palm system are being used by San Francisco police as part of a testing period. The mobile scanners should be available to law-enforcement agencies in about four to six months, said NEC representatives.


New Police Tool

A portable scanner could become the latest tool in helping police identify suspects and other individuals on the street within minutes. Here's how it works:

1. Person places thumb, fingertips over scanner, which reads print like scanning a bar code

2. Officer transmits prints via laptop in patrol car to database at headquarters

3. Computer compares prints with those on record to find possible match


Fast Facts

* Orange County police departments connected to automated fingerprint system: Anaheim, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana

* When a partial fingerprint was lifted from a murder victim's car, it took three minutes for the computer to match the print with Richard Ramirez, solving the "Night Stalker" case; Los Angeles police estimate that a manual search would have taken 67 years.

* CAL-ID, the state's automated fingerprint system, has identified 65,000 latent fingerprints since its inception in the mid-1980s.

Source: NEC Technologies Inc.; Researched by ROBERTO MANZANO/Los Angeles Times

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