New Technology Links Law Enforcement Agencies, Speeds Investigations


By Brittany Bivins

Police say fingerprints are one of the most effective ways to find and identify a suspect, but processing them takes a lot of work and manpower.

Now some law enforcement agencies are working together, pooling their resources so they can identify those suspects more quickly.

Latent Print Identification Officer Ronald McCall with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office says everyone's prints are unique. "Whenever an individual comes into a crime scene and they come into contact with a surface, they're leaving some kind of evidence behind," he said.

Then it's up to crime scene investigators to find it.

Investigators with the Prattville Police Department say they've gotten a lot of new technology recently to help them collect that evidence, especially prints.

"We can get the fingerprint to come up, using different kinds of latent powders," said Tom Allen, an investigator.

Up until six months ago, Prattville depended on other examiners to identify prints. The process used to take much longer. Now, though, they're processed at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office by their latent examiners. It normally takes less than two weeks to figure out if there's a match. Officers say there are other benefits, too.

"We're all chasing the same criminals. we're just too close together for it not to have some overlap, and somebody who is committing crimes here, is naturally probably going to be committing crimes there," said John Lee, an investigator with the Prattville Police Department.

There are thousands of prints in a database, called AFIX, all from local cases. That's separate from AFIS, which is a statewide system.

"We start off with a latent print coming in from an investigator or crime scene technician, where they lifted a print, and we will scan it into this particular AFIX system," McCall said.

The system churns up leads from the local database. Trained officers look at each possible hit manually before making a match. Investigators say this faster method means fewer criminals on the streets.

"They don't typically stop until they're caught. We're turning this print information over to latent print examiners at a much faster rate, and they're able to analyze that and identify these suspects which is going to prevent a lot of people from being victimized in the first place," Lee said.

Prattville Police say since they started working with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and using the AFIX system, they've collected 165 prints. Fifty-five of those have been identified.


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