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THE POWER OF THE FINGERPRINT
You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

10/12/04

Graphic of CJIS logo and fingerprintThree recent cases have gotten dangerous criminals off our streets...thanks to IAFIS (the FBI's "Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System").

What's IAFIS? It's a national fingerprint database that combines with criminal histories, mugshots, scar/tattoo photos, height, weight, hair and eye color, and aliases to help us match up evidence with identities...even when those identities have run far away from the scene of the crime.

1. The case of the cocaine murderer: This April, a man was arrested in Connecticut by a drug task force for possession of cocaine. He was fingerprinted, and his electronic prints were sent to IAFIS. Ten minutes later: MATCH! Turns out he'd been wanted in Miami since September 2002 for fleeing the state to avoid being prosecuted for homicide...and he'd been wanted in Fort Lauderdale since October 2003 on homicide charges. In no time he was picked up and extradited to Florida for prosecution.

2. The case of the vicious rapist: This June, a man was arrested by police in New Jersey for simple assault and endangering the welfare of children. That turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. When officers fingerprinted the man and sent his prints to IAFIS...13 minutes later, MATCH! Turns out he'd been wanted in Norfolk, Virginia, since October 2000 for rape and sexual abduction...and he'd been wanted in Yorktown, Virginia, since May 2001 for kidnapping/sexual assault. In no time he was facing charges in New Jersey before being shipped off to Virginia to face charges there.

3. The case of the Christmas murderer: This September, a 57-year-old man was arrested in Massachusetts for slashing another man with a pocket knife. They'd been on a public bus; words were exchanged; and out came the knife. Fingerprints were taken at the booking station and sent to IAFIS. MATCH! Turns out he was the man accused of a horrific crime in Baltimore in 1974. It was Christmas eve 30 years ago when police department employee McKinley Johnson was helping put together food baskets for the poor. Suddenly a young man approached and stole a can of lunch meat from one of the baskets. Johnson ran after him--and the thief shot him point blank. Before dying, Johnson identified his alleged assailant from photographs...and the hunt has been on ever since.

Since that time, the suspect has lived in different places, assumed 10 different identities, and been arrested five times in Boston in the 1980s for charges from shoplifting to weapon possession. In the meantime, though, IAFIS was created, allowing matches of fingerprints nationwide. And so, with the slash of a pocket knife, 30 years on the run came to an end. Thank goodness.

Links: Read all about IAFIS and other fingerprint programs besides.