By Jennifer Sullivan | Seattle Times
The King County Sheriff’s Office has started using a pocket-size piece of technology that instantly reads fingerprints.
His cop’s sixth sense told Deputy Ryan Abbott something just wasn’t right about the woman at the SeaTac check-cashing business.
The King County sheriff’s deputy had been summoned to the store by employees who believed the woman might be trying to cash a stolen check. She handed Abbott her driver’s license with photo, but a computer check revealed the woman had no criminal history — not exactly the kind of person who would typically be passing a stolen check.
Still, recalled Abbott, “I was suspicious of her ID and the fact that when we ran the name we didn’t get a (criminal) record.” That’s when Abbott pulled out a device about the size of a smartphone and asked the woman if he could scan her fingerprints. Within 30 seconds Abbott had the woman’s real name and learned she was wanted on two felony warrants for identity theft.
Even in the increasingly computer-reliant field of law enforcement, the MorphoIDent portable fingerprint scanner is being hailed as “the next step in helping to fight crime” by King County Sheriff Steve Strachan.
The device allows cops in the field to take two images of a suspect’s fingerprints, which are transmitted, via Bluetooth, to the deputy’s in-car computer, where they are then run through King County’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), a database of more than 700,000 prints taken in the county.
Within 30 seconds the device will reveal whether a person’s fingerprints are on file, either as a wanted person or as someone with a criminal record. ”When I first started using it, (suspects) didn’t believe it was real,” Abbott said. “Even the guys who lied about their names say, ‘That’s cool’ and ‘I didn’t think it would work.’ ”
Abbott is one of three sheriff’s deputies who have been assigned the MorphoIDent, which is made by the Virginia-based company MorphoTrak. Sheriff’s Office leaders have been so happy with the results that they have ordered six more.
Identifying criminal suspects — or ruling out the innocent — in the field can be time-consuming, if not impossible, for law enforcers. Suspects frequently give false names and can often back them up with realistic fake IDs.
Cops such as Abbott call it the “name game” — the question-and-answer sparring that law-enforcement officers often engage in to get suspects to reveal their name. Over the years, Abbott, who is assigned to police SeaTac, developed his own conversational tactics to cajole, trick or coerce suspects into revealing themselves.