Harris County sheriff uses new integrated biometric solution

With more than 1.2 million mug shots in its database, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in Texas has almost completed upgrading to a Web-based system that will allow for easier and quicker access to digital images.

Peter Schroedter, manager of the department’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), said the Web-based solution is needed because the department is scattered countywide.

He said mug shot systems are primarily used for displaying and printing individuals’ pictures and using them in lineups of suspects for witnesses. Schroedter said the department adds about 500 new mug shots every day.

The upgrade is part of a new system the department has been implementing over the past year. Motorola, which has worked with the sheriff’s department for years providing fingerprint and mug shot applications, teamed with Billerica, Mass.-based Viisage, a well-known face-recognition vendor, to provide the new integrated solution.

Darrin Reilly, vice president and general manager of Motorola’s Biometrics Business Unit, said the company has been working with Viisage for some time behind the scenes. He said the deployment of the integrated solution has been relatively smooth, and the sheriff’s department is its first customer. Motorola is reselling the product.

The department is enhancing its Motorola Printrak Biometric Identification Solution with Viisage’s FaceEXPLORER, which helps investigators match a suspect against a large database of digital images.

Schroedter said detectives are using the facial-recognition applications as an investigative tool in identifying suspects. He added that department officials see other capabilities for the integrated product in the future, such as providing more accurate information and saving time in investigations. The sheriff’s department files about 7,000 new charges per month.

Mike Mazzu, Viisage’s vice president of professional services, said several law enforcement organizations are using the mobile version of FaceEXPLORER, which allows officers to take photos from their patrol cars and cross-match them with database via their mobile terminals. Harris County’s department has not taken advantage of that capability yet, he said.

Representatives from both companies said that attitude is changing. More law enforcement and justice agencies are using facial recognition for identification, authentication and other credential-related solutions.

Steve Masters, Motorola’s product manager, said the market is also evolving to a point where law enforcement agencies and others are interested in taking advantage of two biometric identifiers to improve their investigations and operations. Representatives said that multiple biometric requirements are coming out as part of civil identification and law enforcement requests for proposals more often in the United States and internationally.

The sheriff’s department, which is the third largest in the country with 35,000 sworn officers, has been one of law enforcement’s pioneers in using real-time fingerprint identification, he said. The system can now allow deputies in the field to fingerprint individuals and run them through the system from their mobile terminals.

Although Schroedter said the county’s AFIS has been paid for through asset forfeiture, implementing and upgrading such a system is costly and smaller agencies may have a hard time paying for it. He said the county is implementing the enhanced system in phases but didn’t divulge the cost.

Jeremy Kirsch, Viisage’s director of business development, said the business model is changing as larger law enforcement agencies are including smaller ones in regional information-sharing projects. As collaboration among the various agencies improves, they will be able to share costs of such products, he added.

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