NSW Police to use mobile fingerprinting by 2009

Sleek PDAs replace bulky units

A fleet of portable fingerprint scanners to be deployed to NSW police officers will make it near impossible for shoplifters, petty thieves and protesters to weasel out of fines and court appearances.

Some 500 devices will be in operation by January next year under a $6.1 million Field Identification Project, first revealed by Computerworld in 2005, to keep police out of the office and on the streets.

The units, roughly the size of a portable home phone, are strapped onto officers arms or used on a hand-held mounted bracket to maintain safe distance between police and suspects.

Captured fingerprints are uploaded to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) using embedded wireless cards, and cross-checked with recorded fingerprints to provide officers with an identity match.

The process can be completed in as little as 40 seconds. The central database has been designed to process all 500 devices uploading prints simultaneously.

NSW Police Identitification Services commander, superintendent Darryl Tuck, said the system will allow police to issue on the spot fines without dragging suspects back to local commands.

"People have questioned whether they are the suspect on a notice, and this will provide more surety to the court," Tuck said.

"If you have a record in Australia, it will come back with a postive match, whether the [suspect] has a warrant.

"It will cut red tape and keep police in house as long as possible. We have always tried to keep officers out of the police station and on the street."

Fingerprints will not be stored in police databases "at present", according to Tuck and the devices will not retain local records or histories in the event of theft or loss.

Five mobile devices were used by police during the APEC conference in the event of "violent protesting" or riots.

The force previously relied on a 112-strong fleet of bulky 'mobile' units that resembled desktops from the 1980s. The units required constant mainframe connectivity and were one of the first generation of electronic fingerprinting devices designed since the technology's inception in 2000.

Automatic profiling will be the next generation of mobile police technology, according to Tuck. While the technology is presently in grassroot stages, he said police will be able to enter DNA samples such as blood stains into a machine for identity matching within 10 years.

Cameras could also be fitted to the device if legislation changes to allow police to photograph persons of interest for database records.

The device failed to return accurate results in initial trials in extreme cold, and bright conditions. Dramatic variances in temperatures affected fingerprint capture, while the screens reflected too much light for sufficient visibility in direct sunlight.

Tuck said the problems with the device will be ironed out before deployment.

Sagem Australasia was awarded the contract in October last year.

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