Police to get mobile fingerprint-checking tech

The National Policing Improvement Agency has outlined its plans for boosting the use of mobile fingerprinting, wearable video devices and digital forensics
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

The organisation responsible for bringing high-tech equipment to the police has published its strategy for the next three years.

In the Science and Innovation strategy, published on Wednesday, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) laid out a number of new technologies it would begin using. These include mobile fingerprinting, wearable video devices and digital forensics.

"By applying modern science on the front line, police officers are detecting criminals faster, staying on the beat for longer and making decisions based on better evidence about what works," NPIA chief executive Peter Neyroud said in a statement.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said it welcomed the report. "At a time when funding is likely to be constrained or reduced, technical innovation has promise in saving the police service time and money as well as in aiding bringing criminals to justice more quickly," said Mark Rowley, Acpo's lead on futures.

One of the most notable technologies outlined in the strategy is MobileID, a system that lets police officers take suspects' fingerprints on the street and check the prints against the national fingerprint database without having to return to the police station. It takes about two minutes on average to acquire identification, according to the NPIA.

MobileID is currently being trialled by 28 police forces, as well being used in one-off deployments like the Virgin's V Festival and the Stonehenge Summer Solstice.

The agency said the two-year MobileID pilot, codenamed 'Lantern', would end in the autumn. After that, each police force will be able to decide whether to accept the devices. Lantern will fold into a larger project called Mobile Identification at Scene (Midas), which will kick-off this spring.

"As a result of the success of the pilot, forces said they liked the device and 'we'd like more of those'," a spokesman for the NPIA told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "So we put out a tender for a smaller version of the device, which are around the size of a BlackBerry. The next part is to get this out to all police forces in the country. That would take six to 12 months. We're expecting all forces to take this up."

The new devices, which are designed for the sole use of fingerprint scanning, are to be made by Cogent, the biometrics specialist. They will work by scanning both of the suspect's index fingers, and communicating over an encrypted wireless link with the database.

In its strategy document, the NPIA laid out several further areas of technical development for the next three years. These included improving the cost effectiveness of digital forensics, publishing new standards for CCTV image quality, and developing national guidance for the police use of wearable video devices.

The NPIA will also deliver the first elements of the Police National Database and attempt to make images of suspects available on officers' mobile devices. The agency will report by 2012 on a "major operational pilot" on the deployment of non-cooperative facial recognition systems.

The NPIA added that it wanted to strengthen its relationships with researchers and the private sector in order to develop key technologies.

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