CATEGORY: Alcorn County

AUTHOR: GIBSON

HED:Equipment helps finger criminals

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Alcorn County sheriff's deputies have a new high-tech tool to help point the finger at criminals.

The Automated Fingerprint Identification System is part of an effort to computerize the Alcorn County Sheriff's Department, said Sheriff Jimmy Taylor.

It's the first automated fingerprint system available to law enforcement officers in North Mississippi.

"We're proud to have it," Taylor said.

The department received a federal grant that pays for 75 percent of the $40,000 computerization project, he said.

High-tech advantage

The greatest advantage the fingerprint machine gives law enforcement officers is the opportunity to compare a print from a crime scene against all the prints on file, Taylor said.

"We can scan the print against those in the system," he said.

Previously, if officers had a suspect in a crime and a record of the suspect's fingerprints, they would have fingerprints from the crime scene and their records compared by state crime lab technicians, Taylor said.

If there were no suspect match for the crime scene prints, they would be filed for future reference, Taylor said. Taylor estimates his office has 50 to 60 burglary cases where fingerprints were recovered at the crime scene but officers had no suspects.

With the automated fingerprint system, a computer will select the best possible matches from a database of prints based on the number of shared characteristics with the print from the crime scene, Taylor said.

The computer-matched prints still will be sent to the crime lab, where an expert technician will make a final determination on the identification, Taylor said.

The sophisticated system also can process partially smudged prints if there are enough recognizable characteristics, an improvement on early automated fingerprint systems, the sheriff said.

Building a database

Building the database of fingerprints is the first order of business, Taylor said.

"Any system is only as good as the database," he said.

In addition to scanning in new prints as people are booked into the jail, system operators will start scanning in all of the prints from previous felony arrests, Taylor said.

When the felony fingerprints are entered, prints from people arrested on misdemeanors will be entered.

Taylor hopes the database will quickly grow beyond Alcorn County. The state also has been developing a fingerprint database using the same system over the last year-and-a-half, Taylor said.

"Hopefully by the first of the year, we'll be hooked up with the state," Taylor said.

He said the sheriff's department plans to share its new fingerprint capabilities with surrounding counties, allowing them to compare crime scene prints to the Alcorn County database.

As system operators are able, Taylor hopes to include prints taken in surrounding counties to the database.

"Criminals know no county or state lines," Taylor said.

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