Police to trial new mobile fingerprint devices

West Yorkshire force to begin using new system, with 20 more expected to follow by the end of the year

West Yorkshire Police is soon to begin trials of a mobile fingerprint scanning system that will enable officers to tap into records held on multiple databases.

Fingerprint shown on mobile phoneIt should enable them to identify a potential suspect in under a minute at the scene of an incident, according to the Home Office.

The new system – trials of which are to begin in the next few weeks and will involve providing the application to 250 officers – involves a small device which connects to smartphones.

It will then connect to the new Biometric Services Gateway, to search records held on databases held by both the police and the immigration service.

It runs on Motorola Solutions' Pronto applications suite, originally developed for the Airwave emergency services network and which is used by a number of UK police forces.

West Yorkshire Police will give 250 of the scanners to its officers, and the Home Office has said it expects another 20 forces to be using it by the end of the year. It added that the scanners cost less than £300 each – 10% of the cost of current mobile fingerprint systems.

Identification on street

“For the first time, we can now identify somebody on the street through their fingerprints, through those databases,” said Chief Inspector Ian Williams about the device, which looks like a small mobile Wi-Fi dongle.

"We can get photographs back of the individual, we can get a full PNC (Police National Computer) record of the individual as well, which gives us a really thorough identification.

“From the moment we take the fingerprint, we're getting results right through to the PNC check and the photograph in less than a minute.”

Williams said the speed of the process meant people could sometimes be dealt with on the street without having to be taken to a police station.

An armed response unit using the device, which costs under £300, took 10 minutes to identify a driver and issue a summons - a process which previously would have detained the team for four hours.

Automatic deletion

Significantly, Williams said fingerprints taken by the device will not be added to any database as it does not record and store them. The fingerprints are automatically deleted from the device once they have been checked.

“The device is simply there as a conduit to search those databases and nothing is stored on the device,” he said.

West Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle said: “We have seen first-hand, for instance, how this rapid identification has enabled speedy and accurate medical treatment based on the records available. 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.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0