Fingerprint tool draws praise

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
Deputy Derek McVey with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, seeks bifurcations and ending ridges on a digital image of a fingerprint through the county’s new AFIX Tracker.

A new computerized fingerprint database will greatly enhance the ability of law enforcement to solve crimes, Allen County Sheriff Tom Williams said.
Sheriff’s deputies and Iola police officers were trained Thursday on how to operate the new AFIX Tracker system set up in the Sheriff’s Department.
AFIX Tracker allows officers to take digital images of finger and palm prints, then compare them with thousands of other prints from across southeast Kansas, explained Scott Howard, chief operating officer with AFIX Technologies of Pittsburg. The company gets its name through involvement with the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
The computerized AFIS has been around for 10 years, Howard said, but has only recently become affordable enough that more law enforcement agencies could take advantage.
The new equipment was purchased as part of a $700,000 grant made available to 12 southeast Kansas counties from the Department of Homeland Security. A portion of the equipment was acquired last year, Williams said, with a scanner and the rest of the computer equipment installed earlier this week.
“Every law enforcement officer in Allen County is welcome to use the system,” Williams said. “As soon as we get our deputies trained, I am encouraging them to use AFIX as often as possible. It’s a tremendous tool.”

THE AFIX Tracker system is capable of recording specific markings in a fingerprint’s digital image, then using those markings to come up with potential matches.
Howard explained the process:
When studying finger- prints, officers search for bifurcations — where a single ridge of a finger- print slits into two — and ending ridges, where a fingerprint ridge terminates. Bifurcations and ending ridges are the key component to making each person’s fingerprints unique. A single fingerprint likely has dozens of both ending ridges and bifurcations, Howard said. A palm print has hundreds.
With the fingerprint image on a computer screen, officers use digital markers to point out the bifurcations and ending ridges. As with any finger print identification process, the more bifurcations and ending ridges identified, the better.
The pattern is then compared with thousands of other fingerprint or palm print images from across southeast Kansas with a single mouse click. What previously might take hours, or even days, now can be done in minutes.
The images may also be sent to databases maintained by the FBI or Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

TO ILLUSTRATE the program’s effectiveness, Howard left his own hand print on the hood of a patrol pickup. Officers recorded the hand print using fingerprint dust, scanned the print into the system and marked about 30 bifurcations and ending ridges.
Within a second, the new image matched a test print Howard had entered previously as “Joe Blow.”
Fingerprints and palm prints of every person taken into custody at Allen County Jail have been scanned and registered electronically for more than a year, Williams said, part of the first portion of the grant. Those are being registered into the computer database this month.
In addition, fingerprints taken the old fashioned way, with ink pads, can be entered into the system via a flatbed scanner, Howard said.
The system will have fingerprints recorded at various crime scenes as well.
The county also is pursuing grant funding to purchase digital cameras capable of collecting images of finger or palm prints, then filing those images into the AFIX system from a crime scene.