Bringing Rapid Identification

Mobile readers give immediate identification to police officers in the field

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 international databases.

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.

Deployment Examples

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.

Opportunities Ahead

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.


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