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Sticky fingerprints capture the guilty and set the innocent free


IAFIS graphicFingerprint identification has been around for a long time, but it was just 23 years ago today, October 3, 1980, that the FBI's Identification Division took a great technological leap forward and started using computerized equipment and procedures to search its Criminal Fingerprint files. Almost immediately, the new system made it easier and faster for state and local police to get criminal fingerprints into and fingerprint matches in the FBI database.

But that was then, and this is now. Today the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) database is made up of some 45 million digital criminal records that can be instantly and electronically accessed by federal agents and state and local police who are searching for arrest information. And prints come pouring in every day. Last year, for example, over 12 million prints were submitted electronically (and some 4.5 million were sent the old fashioned way, with inked cards).

The important thing about these numbers, though, is what's behind them-the thousands of police success stories that put the guilty behind bars, help the innocent, and keep American streets safe. Here are a few recent ones:

*Patrolman Jeffrey Postell of the Murphy, North Carolina, police found a suspicious character, possibly a burglar, lurking behind a supermarket on his beat. He placed him in custody and took him into the station. Prints were made and sent to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) Special Processing Center. Bingo, it was Eric Robert Rudolph, alleged Atlanta Olympics bomber, who had been on the FBI Most Wanted list since 1996.

*A homeless man with advanced lung cancer was admitted to a New York City hospital. He said he was a Vietnam veteran, which would permit him medical benefits at the local Veterans Administration Medical Center. But the VA's records showed that man had died in 1990. His prints were sent to CJIS Special Processing Center and compared to the veteran's civil fingerprint card. A match! The man ended his days, well tended, in the care of VA doctors.

*Local deputy sheriffs In Norwalk, California, spotted a suspicious character boarding a metro liner without paying. They questioned his identity, submitted his fingerprints to IAFIS, and got a match: the man had been wanted by the FBI's Detroit Field Office since May 2002 for the attempted murder of three people, including two police officers.

*Albany, Georgia, police arrested a man for armed robbery. His prints were sent to IAFIS…and in less than 2 minutes
the match was made. He had been wanted for homicide in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since January 2002.

*The Los Angeles Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office sent the prints of a dead man to IAFIS for processing. Turns out he'd been wanted for over $2 million worth of check fraud by the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office -- within 2 hours the LA FBI office was able to seize the person's property as part of the fraud investigation.

Bottom line: Sticky fingerprints capture the guilty…and set the innocent free.