Biometrics reduces case backlog

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions Criminal Justice Information Systems

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Backlogs and suspended cases are hardly unheard of in the criminal justice system, but biometrics has made a significant difference in Minnesota's system, and officials expect to see even more gains in the coming year.

Many cases have gone into suspension because officials didn't have enough data to connect to suspects. In 1999, the legislature passed a law mandating that

the courts and all public safety and corrections agencies take action to address the problem, said Jerry Olson, a project

manager in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which oversees

the state's Criminal Justice Information System.

That year, 451,335 cases were suspended, and 38 percent of new ones were going into suspension. Cases are suspended for several reasons, but the primary cause is a lack of data connecting them to suspects, Olson said, speaking last month at the

2004 Symposium on Integrated Justice Information Systems — Supporting the Homeland.

Throughout the 1990s, Minnesota's criminal justice officials worked to update existing systems, including the Computerized Criminal History (CCH) system, which agencies use to store basic case information, and the state's Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).

When officials added a nightly electronic transfer of data from the courts to the criminal history system, they discovered a problem, Olson said. For a file to be moved, it needs to match a name, birthdate, originating agency identifier and case number against a fingerprint-based arrest record. Without that match, the file goes into suspension.

Following the 1999 mandate, the

bureau started distributing 167 LiveScan fingerprint readers to the state's 87 counties. Except for the 16 readers in Hennepin County — the state's largest, with

Minneapolis as its hub — they all transmit electronic bookings directly to AFIS/CCH.

To ensure that a scan is good enough to use in court, the LiveScan system is set up so that it runs an automatic quality check before putting the booking into CCH and sending the fingerprints to the FBI. If the quality is not high enough, a message is returned to the booking site requesting another scan, Olson said.

This has resulted in a major change to the case backlog and new file numbers. For 2004, the numbers have dropped to 117,661 in the backlog, with 11 percent of new cases going into suspension.

That doesn't quite meet the goal of less than 100,000 and less than 10 percent by 2004, and the system has had problems, including the lack of electronic transmission from Hennepin County, Olson said. That problem should be solved by summer, because it is more procedural than technical, he said.

However, a major question has been determining who is responsible for collecting the fingerprints and where that should happen, said Thomas McCarthy, a judge in the state's First Judicial District and chairman of the state Supreme Court's Judicial Branch Technology Planning Committee. In some cases, courts have started putting LiveScan readers in courtrooms because suspended files are being generated because suspects never went through the booking process and were never fingerprinted by the police department or sheriff's office, he said.

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