The wider use of fingerprint scanning technology in recent years has made it easier than ever for law enforcement officials to share information about criminals and quickly compare a suspect’s fingerprint image with millions of similar imprints, according to a January report from the General Accounting Office. But it can still take small police departments that can’t afford the electronic equipment more than five months to mail batches of fingerprint cards to state repositories, the report said.
The GAO found that a 1999 FBI program called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) is increasing the use and accuracy of a federal fingerprint database.
The IAFIS program was created to encourage nonfederal law enforcement agencies to submit criminal fingerprints to state databases, and then to the federal IAFIS database. Though state and local police make about 94 percent of felony and serious misdemeanor crime arrests, as recently as 1999, only around 45 percent of fingerprints collected from those arrests made it into the federal repository. In addition, it took an average of 118 days for prints to make it from local law enforcement to the FBI’s fingerprint collection, according to the report.
As of May 2003, the feds were receiving around 70 percent of criminal fingerprints submitted to state repositories, and the time taken to submit the prints has shrunk to 40 days, the GAO said.
However, the GAO found that many small law enforcement agencies still don’t have the money for Livescan optical scanning equipment that allows them to electronically submit fingerprints. Law enforcement agencies also need to improve their procedures for getting fingerprints submitted to state and federal repositories, especially where electronic submission equipment doesn’t exist, the report found. Many agencies in small cities still work with paper fingerprint cards and manual processes, and mail the cards in batches to state repositories?a process that, in the past, has taken up to 169 days.