West Yorkshire Police to roll out mobile scanners for on-the-spot fingerprint checks

Devices are designed to check against national criminal and immigration databases and return results in under a minute

West Yorkshire Police is rolling out scanners that enable officers to instantaneously check a person’s fingerprints against national criminal and immigration databases.

The Biometric Services Gateway is an app developed by the Home Office that, when used with a scanning device, allows police officers to compare fingerprints with records stored in two national biometric databases: the IDENT 1 records used by law-enforcement agencies; and the IABS system used by immigration authorities.

If the fingerprints being checked are in either of the two databases, officers will receive information on a person’s identity within a minute. 

Having worked with the government on a trial programme, West Yorkshire Police has installed the app on the mobile devices of 5,500 front-line officers. The force will now begin rolling out the mobile scanning devices, starting with an initial deployment covering 250 officers.

In addition to providing identity information, the scanners –a small box which can be plugged into a smartphone or tablet device – can also “rapidly identify someone experiencing a medical emergency and make contact with their next of kin”, the government said. The devices being used in West Yorkshire cost less than £300 each, which reportedly equates to just “10% of the cost of current mobile fingerprint systems”, it added.

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As a security measure, the mobile scanners (pictured in use, below right) do not store any fingerprint data. All records are deleted once they have been checked, according to the government.

West Yorkshire Police assistant chief constable Andy Battle said: “The introduction of these fingerprint devices is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire Police and marks another milestone in our technological ambitions. As we have already experienced in the trial, the combination of these digital solutions brings tangible benefits to policing our communities.”

These benefits have included giving officers greater ability to address suspects’ medical needs, Battle said, as well as allowing for quicker investigation of leads, and encouraging suspects to show greater candour of their own accord.

“We have seen first-hand, for instance, how this rapid identification has enabled speedy and accurate medical treatment based on the records available,” the assistant chief constable said. “Its use also allows relatives to attend hospital to see their loved ones when time is of the essence. From an operational perspective, they quickly open investigative leads into serious crimes and can often reveal the associates of an otherwise unknown victim. Likewise, they can immediately identify suspects who attempt to give false details and will prompt people to be more forthcoming in the first place.”

He added: “The added benefit is that they provide greater value for money, which means we can increase their usage across the organisation.”

The Home Office anticipates that, by the end of 2018, a further 20 forces across the UK will have rolled out the Biometric Gateway System. Minister for policing and the fire service Nick Hurd claimed that the app “is just one of a series of national systems the Home Office is designing with policing to give officers information at their fingertips faster than ever before”.

He added: “By cutting out unnecessary trips to and from the police station, mobile technology is really helping to save valuable time and allowing officers to do what they do best – cutting crime and keeping us safe. It’s clear that by embracing technology the police can improve efficiency and, if all forces delivered the level of productivity from mobile working as the leading forces, the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the frontline.

Last month the Home Office revealed that is to unite the IDENT 1 and IABS systems under one service-management structure, ahead of potentially moving both programmes “into a public-cloud hosting environment”.


Sam Trendall

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