Bringing Rapid Identification
Mobile readers give immediate identification to police officers in the field
- By Russell Megonigal
- Oct 06, 2020
As biometric readers play an increasingly prominent
role in law enforcement, one of the newest high-value
use cases is the ability to identify persons of
interest on the street using smaller mobile biometric
readers that are easy and safe for officers to both carry and use.
These solutions allow police officers to perform watchlist
matching within minutes while in the field without having to
transport suspects to a police station or other central booking
facility. Fully realizing these benefits requires a careful consideration
of available solutions and their ability to meet the specific
needs of the application while maximizing ease of use and balancing
cost and features.
Challenges with the Traditional Approach
Traditionally, a police officer in the field will challenge someone
for their identity documents if they have reason to believe that
they are suspicious. Suspects may produce false documents -- or
no documents at all -- if they are trying to conceal their identity.
In this case, the officer transports them to a police station for further
investigation, which can often involve taking biometric information,
such as fingerprints, and comparing against local and
The impacts from this type of identity investigation may include
taking a police officer away from patrol duties on the streets
for many hours in order to secure suspects, transport them to
the police station, complete the necessary paperwork, finish the
investigation and complete the process.
Other officers and a vehicle may also be involved in transporting
a suspect, and the suspect may need to be detained until the
processing equipment becomes available. All of this comes at a
cost both financially and operationally. There may also be the
reputational impact of detaining innocent people because they
have inadequate or no identity documents. This is a waste of time
for the police and the innocent party.
Bringing Biometrics to the Streets
The solution is to adapt fingerprint reader technology for field
use that, typically, has been quite bulky. Recent advances in technology
and software developments now make this possible, allowing
for smaller and more ergonomically designed fingerprint readers.
Because these solutions are also compatible with both iOS
and Android™ devices, biometric reader hardware can be paired
with a broad range of mobile devices, tablets, or laptops to create
a truly flexible and mobile solution.
These solutions can come in two packaging options so they
can be easily carried by officers while also allowing them to use
their own devices. The first is a one-handed folio case that holds
both the fingerprint reader and the smartphone. The second can
include a flip case that holds the reader separate from the smartphone
or other device. In both scenarios, officers simply pair their
own device with the reader hardware and can identify persons of
interest wherever they encounter them by performing watchlist matching against a relevant database within minutes.
The work-flow usually begins when the operator launches the
smartphone app. Some devices also have features, such as illuminated
“landing lights,” that help guide users through the process
of capturing fingerprints to help ensure they meet recognized international
standards. The device takes a single fingerprint and
compares the individual’s information over the air with the various
available local and international databases.
If someone is confirmed to have a criminal record, they can
be immediately detained. If they are not recorded on any of the
databases, they can be immediately released. In either case, the interaction
is typically completed in minutes and there is no need to
spend time or resources to transport the person to a police station.
Evaluating Available Options
Among the attributes that police departments should consider
when evaluating biometric readers for in-the-field rapid identification,
durability is one of the most critical. Features such as a glass
coating on the reader’s sensor and an Ingress Protection (IP) rating
of 65 can help ensure the most durability, functionality, and value
out of the solution. Other features, such as thin film transistor
(TFT) technology, also provide a host of benefits. Among these are
the ability for readers to capture high-quality images in all lighting
conditions (such as direct or indirect sunlight) and when fingerprint
surfaces are not optimal (dirty, stained, etc.), which helps
ensure compliance with international standards. TFT technology
also enables a very small and thin form factor.
Ensuring that mobile biometric readers support both Android™ and iOS platforms gives them the most flexibility for delivering
true BYOD (Bring your Own Device) functionality. The
software for these solutions should be delivered in the form of
a software development kit (SDK), which allows police departments,
or their technology partners, to develop their own apps to
match their database checking processes.
Police departments are already seeing valuable results where
this type of reader has been deployed. In the first year of using
mobile biometric readers, a police department in a major European
city has seen a six-fold increase in the number of people identified, with the number of persons of interest detained increasing
at an even greater rate.
Meanwhile, officers using these readers are spending more
time on the street, protecting the public and maintaining visibility
in the community. Custody suites are freed up to house confirmed
offenders, rather than those awaiting identification, and overall
time and booking costs have been reduced. The police department
reported saving an estimated $600,000 within the first year
of deployment, after the purchase of the mobile biometric kits.
The industry will continue to see smaller, all-in-one mobile
biometric readers with the capability to also read identity documents
as part of all-in-one solutions. This will pave the way for
a broader scope of use cases, such as verification and watchlist
matching at border crossings, passport checks at remote general
aviation airports that lack a customs and border protection infrastructure,
and refugee identification.
Mobile biometric readers are already delivering significant
benefits to police forces around the world by saving time, money
and significantly increasing detention rates. The speed and availability
of these mobile solutions are improving the identification
experience for police officers and citizens and are becoming beneficial for community relations.
The continuing advances in fingerprint technology and software
solutions will ensure that modern police forces that deploy
these devices will benefit from improved efficiency, and these same benefits will be extended
into broader law enforcement applications.
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Security Today.