Metropolitan Police Service develops mobile fingerprint device to save time and public money

The Metropolitan Police Service has become the first British police force to develop its own mobile fingerprint device in a move that’s designed to save both officer time and public money. The mobile biometric device, named INK (Identity Not Known) Biometrics, scans suspects’ fingerprints and will confirm their identity within 60 seconds if they’re known to police databases. This allows faster apprehension of wanted offenders and, by removing the need to return to base, will keep officers out on the streets for longer periods.

Although similar technology has been used by the Metropolitan Police Service and other forces since 2012, the new kit is cheaper which allows six times as many devices to be deployed. In fact, 600 devices will now be rolled out to front line officers across London in the next six months.

Fingerprints are only taken where there’s legal cause under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but by giving more officers access to this technology it will reduce the need for suspects to be taken to police stations to have their identity checked. This will also free up limited custody space for those offenders who do require detention.

The portable device comprises of software produced by Metropolitan Police Service staff, used on an Android smart phone handset and paired with a Crossmatch fingerprint reader. The device securely communicates with the Home Office-developed Biometric Services Gateway, which searches the Criminal Records Office and immigration enforcement databases.

If a suspect has a criminal record or is known to immigration enforcement, their identity can be confirmed at the roadside and an officer, with relevant access levels, can also use the device to check the Police National Computer to establish if the individual is currently wanted for any outstanding offences. All fingerprints taken on the device are deleted automatically once the officer logs off the device.

Metropolitan Police Service officers and staff took the innovative step of developing their own product and software when it became clear that doing so could significantly increase the number of devices (fewer than 100 in recent years) at a much reduced cost. INK will save an estimated £200,000 in support costs per annum.

Best possible use of technology

Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Cressida Dick

Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Cressida Dick

Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “I’ve always been clear in my ambition to make the best possible use of technology to fight crime. The speed of analysis of information that this device offers will drive effectiveness and efficiency and allow officers to spend more time in our communities and on fighting crime. This new technology was developed from the ground up with the full involvement of our officers and, as we move forward, we need more people like them to join us with their ‘tech savvy’ innovative thinking. I hope this shows potential officer recruits that policing is fully embracing ‘The Digital Age’ and that they can be part of an exciting future.”

Superintendent Adrian Hutchinson, who’s leading the project, said: “Mobile identification technology helps officers to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. For example, if police stop a driver for a traffic violation, but the driver has no documents on him and the car is registered to another person, officers may not be happy that the name given is correct. INK can confirm the individual’s identity to allow the service of a summons, rather than officers having to arrest them and take them to a police station where they then confirm their identity. Also, if the person is wanted for other offences, this device will allow us to establish this at the point they are stopped.”

Hutchinson added: “I’m very proud that we have become the first British police force to develop our own device. With the money we’re saving, we’re now able to provide more devices to more officers than ever before, saving them the time and inconvenience of either waiting for a biometric device to arrive or taking the suspect into custody.”

The in-house system has been built and tested by the Metropolitan Police Service’s Digital Policing division as well as the Transformation Directorate. The devices are designed to be simple to use and rechargeable in a police vehicle.

Mobile fingerprint Case Studies

Case Example 1

On Thursday 26 July at approximately 21.50 hours, officers were called to a report of a naked man running in the road, jumping on vehicles while self-harming with a razor blade outside Bayswater London Underground Station.

The man, aged 36, had no ID or personal belongings and gave the officers incorrect details. He was taken to the hospital where officers fingerprinted the man using the INK device. In spite of having slightly cut index fingers on both hands from self-harming, the device successfully and quickly provided his details.

The data that came back from the fingerprint scans included a photograph and descriptions of the male’s tattoos that helped officers to identify him.

It became apparent that he was under a Mental Health Order and had absconded from a mental health facility. The swift information provided by the device further highlighted additional health concerns that were very useful for the officers and staff at the hospital treating him. The man was eventually returned to the facility.

PC Jon Marshall, a response team officer from the Westminster Borough, stated: “The fingerprint scan was successful in coming up with both an immigration response and a Police National Computer identification. The man had a common name and, without the fingerprint reading, it would have been extremely difficult to have identified him and to treat him in a way that was suitable to his needs and that ensured the safety of officers and hospital staff alike. The immigration data also had a photo attached, which I was both surprised and impressed by.”

Case Example 2

Police officers had reason to stop a dark VW Golf at approximately 13.45 hours on Tuesday 31 July on Brixton Road in Lambeth. Initially, the two occupants of the vehicle gave false identification details, so officers used the INK fingerprint device at the scene. This swiftly returned positive identifications for both as being wanted and, due to the information received, resulted in the two males being arrested.

The first suspect, aged 25, was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon, burglary, going equipped to steal, handling stolen goods and possession with intent to supply drugs. The second suspect, aged 23, was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon, going equipped to steal and burglary.

In addition, a lock knife was found in the vehicle along with a balaclava and stolen moped keys. While in custody, a further search carried out by the officers found a watch valued at £3,000 concealed in the first suspect’s underwear.

Police Sergeant Chris Snell from the Violent Crime Task Force explained: “The INK device was able to give officers an accurate and rapid result, in turn helping them to process these individuals more efficiently so that officers could be back on the streets helping to protect London and removing potentially violent criminals more quickly.”

The two suspects have since been released under investigation pending the analysis of the drugs.

Big Brother Watch voices cause for concern

Silkie Carlo

Silkie Carlo

Speaking about the new fingerprint scanners, Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: “The growth of border-style security on our streets should be cause for concern to all of us. That police can now stop and scan people’s fingerprints to check their immigration status is the modern equivalent of being asked to show your papers.”

Carlo added: “This tool clearly risks being applied disproportionately to ethnic minorities who have been over-policed for far too long. If there’s reason to believe someone has both committed an offence and is lying about their identity, they should be taken to a police station, read their rights and dealt with properly.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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