Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Mobile fingerprint scanner for English and Welsh police

Cogent fingerprint scanner
A pilot of the technology started in 2006

All 43 police forces in England and Wales are to start using mobile fingerprint scanners to check the identity of suspects in the street.

Up to 3,000 devices, the size of a mobile phone, will be deployed this summer, enabling officers to cross-reference prints with national records.

The National Policing Improvement Agency has signed a three-year contract worth £9m with US firm Cogent Systems.

Civil liberty campaigners fear the devices could lead to random searches.

Liberty said last year it had "very real concerns" about the policy and there needed to be further debate over use of the machines.

It called for a government consultation to "determine the proper boundaries of police conduct in this very sensitive area".

But senior officers say the scanners will speed up criminal inquiries and save thousands of hours in police time.

They say the scanned fingerprints would not be added to a database.

Two minutes

A pilot of 330 mobile fingerprint devices, known as Operation Lantern, in which heavier machines were used by motorway patrols, started in 2006 and eventually involved 28 forces.

Identification is crucial to police investigations and giving officers the ability to do this on the spot within minutes is giving them more time
Ch Cons Peter Neyroud

The technology has also been used to identify murder victims and people left unconscious or incapable after road crashes.

The mobile scanners take less than two minutes to operate.

The index fingers are scanned and the files transmitted in an encrypted format via Bluetooth technology to a PDA, computer or mobile phone. They are then sent to a central system, where they are cross-referenced against the national fingerprint database of 8.3 million prints.

Chief Constable Peter Neyroud, from the agency, said: "Identification is crucial to police investigations and giving officers the ability to do this on the spot within minutes is giving them more time to spend working in their communities, helping to fight crime, bringing more offenders to justice and better protecting the public."

Speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, Deputy Chief Constable Peter Goodman said: "This new technology will allow police to more easily confirm the identity of suspects on the street without having to arrest them and return to the police station to confirm who they are - as we currently have to do.

"It also means cost savings equivalent to releasing some 360 officers back to front-line policing each year."

Mobile fingerprint scanners are currently being tested by Strathclyde Police to assess their potential future use by other forces in Scotland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland says it has no plans to introduce the devices.

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