Mobile fingerprinting to rollout by next year?

Mobile fingerprinting scanning technology could be on police officers' belts by next year and they may use the devices to compare prints against a variety of databases.

Speaking at a Mobile Policing conference in London yesterday, Peter Goodman, assistant chief constable for Derbyshire Constabulary and the head of the trials at the National Policing Improvement Agency, said the next generation of the mobile identification system could be rolled out to officers by autumn of next year or early 2010.

At the moment, the mobile fingerprinting trial dubbed Mobile Identity at Scene or MIDAS lets officers scan a finger and check the print against existing databases of anyone who has been charged with a crime. Goodman said: "We'll get the UK Borders Agency database on there."

That database contains fingerprints of anyone coming to the country to work or study, as anyone applying for a visa is now fingerprinted and must apply for a biometric ID card.

While including that database is merely under discussion at the moment, Goodman said NPIA is "openly thinking about adding as many as you can there's a number of other databases we would like access to, but we do realise there are some human rights issues with that."

The first round of the trial started this summer, and was recently extended to another nine forces and 130 units after police officers "clamoured" for the devices.

"They wanted to have a piece of the cake as well," said Goodman.

Indeed, some units have been loathed to give them up after trials end, saying it's "part of their regular kit now, and they feel naked without it," Goodman said.

The demand for the fingerprinting technology is huge despite the high cost, Goodman noted, saying the devices are being bought at a considerable expense. "They're at the top end of the range, and expensive devices to buy," he said.

But the next generation devices will be much cheaper he said, because IT firms have been so enthusaistic in their support and their bids to supply the next versions. "The interest from industry has been absolutely huge," Goodman explained. "We hope as a consequence of that we'll get optimal value this will be very, very affordable."

The devices must be used in cars at the moment, simply because they're too big to carry around. Goodman said he would like to see a portable version developed so all officers on the beat could carry one. "We'd like to get one onto every officer's belt."

The first trials earlier this summer helped British Transport Police save time on identification 82 per cent of the time by an average of 35 minutes. The technology has also been used to identify injured people and bodies, Goodman said.

"An application we hadn't realised is the real benefits for body identification," he explained, adding the technology could be used to name victims of disasters in the UK and overseas.