Digital prints finger blaggers faster

The appliance of science

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UK police are using digital fingerprint technology to speed up the detection of crime.

Six police forces are using the technology, which allows police to transmit digital print images from the field using mobile devices, reducing the time it takes to establish matches from days to hours. The approach has allowed police to arrest burglars, for example, more quickly, thereby reducing incidents of further crime by recidivist offenders.

"Where this system was first trialed in Lincolnshire, burglaries dropped by 40 per cent," Professor Nigel Allinson from Sheffield University told the British Association's Science Festival, the BBC reports.

Officers using the technology are outfitted with a digital scanner, which links to a laptop fitted with a wireless data card. Physical copies are also taken, but digital records sent back to labs allow for swifter cross-checking against fingerprint databases.

A key factor in the success of the technology has been the use of compression techniques, which allow high-resolution images to be squeezed by a factor of 15 while still retaining sufficiently detail in order to establish matches.

"Fingerprint identification is all about looking for minutiae - for discontinuities in the ridge and furrow pattern. Experimentation has determined the optimum level of compression which allows officers to transmit prints with no loss of information in 30-60 seconds," Allinson told the conference. Without compression, images might take up to 20 minutes to send from the field back to labs.

After the success of the trials with selected forces, the system is being rolled out across all 43 police forces in England and Wales following its approval by the National Fingerprint Board.

Allinson and his colleagues are building on earlier work to design a system to match shoe prints left at crime scenes, the BBC reports. ®

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