For two years, some Houston street cops have been carrying a handheld device that instantly scans fingerprints and sends them to an FBI database in Clarksburg, W.Va., that contains 2 million prints belonging to terrorists, sex offenders, and criminals with outstanding warrants, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The worst of the worst,” said John Traxler of the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System, a $1 billion upgrade of the old fingerprint system, police from Houston and four other places have been testing as part of a pilot program.
It seems to be working. Instead of booking someone and then waiting hours for a fingerprint match, the Houston cops can do it at the scene in about 3 1/2 minutes using a handheld scanner called Blue Check. Police arrested 176 people in 2009 by matching their prints with the FBI’s Repository for Individuals of Special Concern. Under the old system, many of those 176 might still be out there committing crimes — or preparing to. “Unless we had probable cause, if they refused to tell us who they are, it’s quite likely that they would have been let go,” said assistant Houston chief Vicki King. The RISC is just one facet of Next Generation. It will eventually replace the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, that police have relied on since 1999.