The Metropolitan Police Service is giving mobile fingerprint scanners to its officers, to use on those suspected of or wanted for criminal offences.
The Met said on Wednesday that it was deploying 350 of the 'MobileID' devices in the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Newham, Westminster, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, Brent, Croydon, Islington, Camden, Hackney and Haringey.
"Mobile Identification is a technological step forward that helps police officers identify people quickly," assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said in a statement. "Evidence has shown that a full identification arrest can tie-up both the subject and the police officer for several hours. Even a traditional identity check conducted on the street can take an extended period of time to complete."
Checks with MobileID devices, by way of contrast, takes between 30 seconds and two minutes. According to the Met, the devices check the suspect's fingerprints against the national database, but do not retain them after that check has taken place.
"MobileID is effective particularly in revealing serious and violent offenders who will do everything they can to prevent the police from knowing their true identities," Rowley continued. "This technology means there is increased officer time spent on patrol, and as a result, helps to make communities safer."
The deployment is part of a wider scheme kicked off by the soon-to-be-abolished National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) last July. London's police service has already trialled the phone-sized MobileID devices during roadside checks, the Notting Hill Carnival and the policing of the Royal Wedding.
Apart from the boroughs, public order and traffic officers will also get fingerprint readers. The Met noted that the devices could be used to identify unconscious or dead people at the scenes of accidents.
The Met is also trialling another piece of mobile technology, namely a system that can extract text messages, call histories and contact details from the handsets of those in custody.
According to a BBC report last week, this technology is already being used in 16 boroughs and — unlike the fingerprint readings from MobileID — the police hang onto the extracted data.
"When a suspect is arrested and found with a mobile phone that we suspect may have been used in crime, traditionally we submit it to our digital forensic laboratory for analysis," deputy assistant commissioner Stephen Kavanagh told the BBC. "Therefore, a solution located within the boroughs that enables trained officers to examine devices and gives immediate access to the data in that handset is welcomed."