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Wake County Goes High-Tech to Fight Crime

Posted May 16, 2007
Updated May 17, 2007

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— Digital technology is allowing law enforcement agencies in Wake County to solve crimes quicker and more efficiently.

Last month, the City-County Bureau of Identification added the new technology to its processing area in downtown Raleigh. The high-tech equipment allows agents to process criminal suspects faster and more accurately. 

With the scan of a fingerprint, for example, agents can search against database records almost instantly to help verify a person's identity.

A more in-depth scan takes images of a person's entire hand, and uploads them into a growing database of already 40,000 palm prints, 2,500 of which are currently unmatched.

Eight new digital cameras allow suspects' mug shots to be taken with such precision that they can be used for facial recognition -- a feature that isn't yet available for the agency but is likely within the next couple of years.

With that, for example, CCBI agent Andy Parker says, a surveillance or composite photo of a perpetrator could be cross-referenced with mug shots on file to retrieve possible suspects.

CCBI is only one of two such agencies in the United States that uses such technology -- the other being the Sacramento, Calif. Sheriff's Office.

"We need every advantage we can possibly get when dealing with suspects," Parker said. "And we would be foolish not to incorporate the technology that's available nowadays into crime fighting."

Parker has supervised and helped implement the new digital technology. Agents have been working on digitizing prints to build their own palm print database and a fingerprint database that is independent of the State Bureau of Investigation's.

Since the system launched April 26, Parker said the agency has already seen a large number of cases solved that might not have been solved otherwise, such as auto thefts and residential burglaries.

"A little short of a month's time, and we have recorded right at 30 suspects who have been identified using this technology," he said.

CCBI Director Sam Pennica credits those arrests, in part, to the speed that data is captured and processed.

"Prior to this technology, there was a four- to six-week delay for information to be entered into the database and compared to latent fingerprints and palm prints at the crime scene," he said.

Under that process, investigators solved about 233 cases since December 2005.

"Now, it is less than a 24-hour period," Pennica said.

Before the new technology, the only way agents could compare data was to have an officer give a suspect's name. But now, agents can take prints and compare them to data on file and give investigators the name of a potential suspect.

The equipment also means faster processing times for those arrested, Pennica said. Using the traditional ink-and-paper method, agents typically spent about 10 minutes fingerprinting a suspect. With the new technology, agents are able to process suspects in about three minutes.

Pennica said that means officers can avoid long waits for processing and get back to the business of enforcing laws and fighting crime.

Faster processing also means agents have more time to fingerprint more suspects, Pennica said. Prior to April 26, only people arrested for felonies -- about a third -- were fingerprinted.

Now, agents are able to fingerprint everyone allowed under state law, which excludes those arrested for misdemeanor traffic violations, such as speeding.

"That's increased our database by two-thirds, so it gives us more suspects to compare to," Pennica said.

And that means a greater chance to capture criminals who have avoided arrest and the possibility of making faster arrests in the future, he said.


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  • Steve Crisp May 17, 2007

    This proposal, like the Patriot Act, is an excellent idea. But it needs one thing. It needs an oversight committee made up of governmental officials, citizens, AND the press to review its use and make sure that the systems are being used ONLY against criminals and terrorists and not regular citizens. Any system should (almost) never be used to establish probable cause, but only to support existing probably cause. The "almost" would excempt tracking of terrorists and would require tremendous oversight to prevent government from becoming abusive.

  • Mad Baumer May 17, 2007

    Good posts! I understand the George Orwell comment.BUT,I have to wonder how many of these cameras are the last link to kidnapping victims, idiots that are ripping ATM's out of the walls, robberies and beatings that have no witness for the victim, etc. IF YOU ARE IN A PUBLIC PLACE, DO PUBLIC THINGS! If someone sees you picking your nose on camera, you will live. If that camera picks up a suspect grabbing an 8 year old girl and later is the only evidence in the case linking her killer to the crime, (circa Pheonix Arizona, 2003), than thank God it was there. There is this huge conspiracy theory about government phone taps. Do you think they really are concerned about you calling your sick aunt? I want planes to stop blowing up. I don't want them searching my house every week. I get that. But people always take it to the endth degree based on what could happen and then "it will be too late" RELAX, we all vote, and have a say if we want to get involved. I say feeling secure is worth it.

  • 68_polara May 17, 2007

    I agree, this digital technology seems to be a very valuable crime fighting tool, I'm glad they now have this available to them. Now as for the statement "if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about" is very dangerous indeed. I couldn't imagine living in George Orwell's London.

    From thisislondon.co.uk web site:

    According to the latest studies, Britain has a staggering 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of cameras globally. It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.

    The RAE report follows a warning by the Government's Information Commissioner Richard Thomas that excessive use of CCTV and other information-gathering was 'creating a climate of suspicion'.

  • smegma May 17, 2007

    BEEN THERE. DONE THAT! :-) thanks for the memory Wake County Detention Center (not an axe murderer, just a pre-21 year old mistake). It's funny now that I'm done paying for it. They aren't the cheapest place to stay for the night...

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc May 17, 2007

    probable cause that is... ;-)

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc May 17, 2007

    As a Libertarian I am the type of person who would be likely to say what you don't want to hear. Many times the statement "if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about" worries me. My problem is generally with surveillance or search of the general population with no apparent probably cause.

    But in this case I don't have a problem at all. This is a tool which will help investigators solve crimes more quickly by running prints against a database of known convicts. As a convict you lose some of your liberties and deservedly so.

    Sorry about your loss. Criminals are really the pinnacle of selfishness and I'm sure that guy will continue his misguided ways and be caught at some point, if that's any consolation.

  • Mad Baumer May 17, 2007

    Don't let me see one comment here today complaining about "big brother" and peoples loss of privacy. You know what a loss of privacy is? It is the rat that climbed into my workplace a couple of weeks ago and stole some things that were sentimental and probably had no street value. The police were unable to do anything as they don't have an SBI unit in Wake Forest, according to them, that will look at anything but a felony. THEY STILL ENTERED MY PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT AFTER HOURS AND HELPED THEMSELVES. With this new technology they won't need the SBI unit as they will be able to do digital fingerprint scans right into the database. I swear if one person writes in today that this is dangerous, I am going to scream. IF YOU ARE DOING NOTHING WRONG; YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT...