Police hope biometrics will provide arresting results

Combined fingerprint and facial recognition could help UK police improve the identification of suspects and management of prisoners

The Police IT Organisation (PITO) has outlined plans to greatly increase its use of biometrics over the next five years to help it identify suspects more easily and accurately.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2005 conference in London, Fred Preston, director of identification for PITO, said his department planned to incorporate facial biometrics into its identification systems which are currently mostly based around fingerprints.

Preston said his department is working towards the development of a Strategic Identification Services Platform (SISP). "Our aim is to eventually be able to fuse results from different biometrics and different engines searching results," he said.

Using a combination of biometrics will help police improve the identification of arrestees or individuals who have been associated with a crime scene, the elimination of people from enquiries and identification for access to databases, said Preston.

Currently police are using IDENT1 (National Biometric Identification System) which links finger prints with those contained within the national biometric database. The database holds details of 6.1 million individuals, including 19 percent of the UK male population. There are currently one million unidentified fingerprint images stored on the system.

Biometrics will play a crucial role in the future of criminal justice and policing itself and will transform current standard practise in law enforcement, Preston added. "I'm very much an advocate of increasing capabilities. We don't want a restrictive system, we are headed towards a more integrated approach with more integrated data management, increased operability and remote and mobile access to information," he said.

A lack of identification verification within the current criminal justice systems has created loopholes which some criminals have taken advantage of, Preston admitted. "We need to check that the right people go to court, the right person goes to prison and the person who is coming out of prison is the right person, because unfortunately that's not always the case," he said.

If facial and fingerprint recognition were in place, the combined verification of two biometrics would help to ensure such problems could not occur, said Preston.

Currently there is no national facial recognition database that police can use, but some regional police do have use facial recognition on a local level. Newham Council introduced face recognition software to 12 town centre cameras, in 1998, with the aim of decreasing street robbery. The captured images were then compared against a police database of convicted criminals known to the area.

The police photograph everyone charged with or convicted of an offence. Digital databases of static photos are already held by some police forces. On a national level fingerprinting is the only biometric in general use and police have been using the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) since March 2001.

NAFIS was rolled out to all 42 Fingerprint Bureaux of England and Wales. This system was introduced at a cost of £90m over five years, NAFIS contains 4.6 million full sets of fingerprints and can be added to or searched by the local Fingerprint Bureau attached to each police force. Previously all finger print records were held on a system at New Scotland Yard.