Before Austin police officers click on the handcuffs, they may make a request that could save certain suspects a trip to jail: provide a roadside fingerprint sample, says the Austin American-Statesman. About 100 officers will begin using mobile fingerprint scanners to help identify suspects in crimes, from felonies down to traffic offenses when motorists don’t have their licenses. Law enforcement officials nationally have praised such scanners, saying suspects can be more easily and quickly identified. Some civil libertarians have raised concerns about their use, particularly about whether officers are requiring people to provide fingerprint samples before they are arrested.
Austin police will be among about 100 police agencies using the BlueCheck devices by Cogent Systems, a Pasadena, Calif., company that has contracts with law enforcement agencies across the nation and with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Austin police are purchasing the first group of scanners, which sell for about $1,000 each, with a federal grant aimed at decreasing violent crime in specific areas of the city. Police plan to use the devices when investigating a range of crimes, particularly cases in which suspects could be cited and released but do not have valid IDs. Such offenses include running stoplights and possessing small amounts of marijuana. Dozens of California departments have purchased the devices, including the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and the Los Angeles Police departments. Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project already is troubled by other technology police have begun using, or are considering testing, including downtown security cameras and blood tests for some drunken driving suspects.