New Technology: Bad news for bad guys | New generation AFIS can match palm prints to help solve crimes

King County’s new generation Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is now “live.” The new AFIS can match fingerprints and palm prints, and is already proving to be a great success, law enforcement officials say.

  • Thursday, October 6, 2011 8:19pm
  • News

King County’s new generation Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is now “live.” The new AFIS can match fingerprints and palm prints, and is already proving to be a great success, law enforcement officials say.

Examiners can now give detectives new suspect names in homicide, rape, and kidnapping cases, among others.

“Not every murder investigation contains the possibility of DNA technology” said veteran homicide detective Scott Tompkins. “The new Palm AFIS database has allowed us to develop leads in homicide cases that were at a dead end before.”

AFIS works by having a computer compare a fingerprint lifted at a crime scene to a database of over 690,000 sets of fingerprints in the local system. Once a match is made, an examiner manually confirms the “hit.”

But until now, the AFIS computer couldn’t do a search for palm prints left at a crime scene by a suspect. Only prints from the tips of fingers could be used.

So unless there was a known suspect where an examiner could manually compare the palm print to what was in the database, detectives were out of luck. And suspects would go free.

Now, an examiner can take a fraction of a latent palm print, search it through the new AFIS, and perhaps get a hit on a known palm print. The tables are turned: the examiner can now give the suspect’s name to the detective. And palm prints make up about 30 percent of the prints lifted at a crime scene.

The number of suspect identifications will continue to increase as more palm prints and fingerprints are added to the database. More crimes will be solved through the use of this new technology, contributing to officer and public safety, officials say.

Under administration of the King County Sheriff’s Office, the AFIS Program serves all law enforcement agencies within the county. The program’s criminal fingerprint technology and operations are funded by a property tax levy, renewed by the voters in 2006 and set to expire in 2012. A proposition to renew the levy will appear on the ballot in 2012.


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