Home News West Yorkshire Police trials all-new Home Office mobile fingerprinting technology

West Yorkshire Police trials all-new Home Office mobile fingerprinting technology

by Brian Sims

New mobile fingerprinting technology will allow front line officers across the country to use their smart phones to identify people in less than a minute – saving police time and reducing costs. An App on an officer’s phone, combined with a handheld scanner, will mean that police will be able to check fingerprints against both criminal and immigration records by connecting to the two live databases (namely IDENT1 and IABS) via the all-new Biometric Services Gateway. 

West Yorkshire Police, who worked with the Home Office to trial the new system, will begin an initial roll-out of 250 scanners to officers in the coming weeks. The App is already available to its 5,500 front line officers. It’s expected that another 20 forces across the country will deploy the system by the end of this year.

Nick Hurd, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, said: “The Biometric Services Gateway is just one of a series of national systems that the Home Office is designing with policing to give officers information at their fingertips faster than ever before. By cutting out unnecessary trips to and from the police station, mobile technology is really helping to save valuable time and allowing officers to do what they do best – cut crime and keep us safe. It’s clear that, by embracing technology, the police can improve efficiencies. If all forces delivered the level of productivity from mobile working as do the leading forces, the average officer could spend an extra hour each day on the front line.”

Significant cost savings

Enabled by Home Office technology, the Biometric Services Gateway will also lead to significant costs savings, with the new system available at a fraction of the cost of those currently in use. The scanners used by West Yorkshire Police, for example, cost less than £300. That’s 10% of the cost of current mobile fingerprint systems.

To ensure the information accessed from the Biometric Services Gateway remains secure, fingerprints are not stored and automatically deleted from a given device once they’ve been checked.

As well as identifying a person of interest who may be withholding their name, the technology enables officers to rapidly identify someone experiencing a medical emergency and make contact with their next of kin.

An early example of the new system in action includes a firearms unit’s officers who detained a driver after a short pursuit and were then able to identify him as a disqualified driver despite the individual involved giving false details. The man was issued with a summons for three offences and his vehicle seized. The armed response unit returned to patrol within ten minutes. Without the mobile fingerprint scanner, this could have resulted in the unit being out of action for four hours with the individual concerned otherwise having to be taken to a custody suite.

Milestone in technological ambitions

West Yorkshire Police’s assistant chief constable Andy Battle said: “The introduction of these fingerprint devices is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire Police and marks another milestone in our technological ambitions. As we’ve already experienced in the trial, the combination of these digital solutions brings tangible benefits to policing our communities. It means we can submit fingerprints of suspects from the street to a real-time national database and receive results in less than a minute.”

Battle continued: “We’ve seen first-hand, for instance, how this rapid identification has enabled speedy and accurate medical treatment based on the records available. Its use also allows relatives to attend hospital to see their loved ones when time is of the essence. From an operational perspective, the system quickly opens investigative leads into serious crimes and can often reveal the associates of an otherwise unknown victim. Likewise, it can immediately identify suspects who attempt to give false details and will prompt people to be more forthcoming in the first place. The added benefit is that the technology provides greater value for money, which means that we can increase the systems’ usage across the organisation.”

Providing a visible presence

West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who’s also the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ national lead on forensics and biometrics, explained: “The introduction of the Biometric Services Gateway shows how West Yorkshire Police is once again leading the way with new technology and builds on the investment and introduction of the handheld mobiles that all front line officers use. Using this advanced technology means that officers are out on the street providing that visible presence rather than dealing with suspects in custody. It could eventually enable the introduction of new automated systems, further ensuring that officers are freed up to provide reassurance in our communities.”

In conclusion, Burns-Williamson said: “It’s important that we continually improve our services to make sure the needs of our communities are at the heart of our delivery. Investing in this cutting-edge technology forms a crucial part of that picture, ensuring that the public of West Yorkshire are safer and feel safer, but crucially testing this proof of concept such that the overall benefits can be rolled out across policing nationally for everyone’s benefit.”

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