SFPD making high-tech move for fingerprinting

Crime fighting is about to go high- tech in The City, with the Police Department poised to acquire a system that would allow officers to collect fingerprints and DNA data at crime scenes instead of waiting for processing at a later date.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed city and county budget includes $3 million for the plan. 

The new Automated Biometric Identification System would store and register information such as DNA and fingerprints and check it against a police database. It consists of hand-held devices that officers can carry to crime scenes and arrests.

“With an array of user-friendly features, the device can capture forensic-quality fingerprints and high-resolution portraits. Mobile Ident III allows users to quickly and easily perform in-the-field identifications,” is how a company that makes the equipment, Cogent Systems, describes one of its hand-helds.

The system is meant to aid investigators and police in the field to help solve crime, according to Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker. Similar systems have been set up in Alameda County and Los Angeles.

“Public safety is government’s most essential responsibility,” Winnicker said. “This budget invests millions to provide police with the technology and tools to better combat crime.”

But the technology also could provide a direct link to federal immigration officials, which could interfere with The City’s sanctuary ordinance. Under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program, anyone arrested in The City will have their fingerprints checked during booking at County Jail against a database used by the ICE. 

The federal program has led to a major conflict between Newsom and State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who welcome the new system, and immigrant advocates, who say it clashes with The City’s sanctuary policy.

Information collected by the Sheriff’s Department will automatically be sent to ICE starting Tuesday, but the Police Department has largely been left out of the debate. 

Officials have not said whether the SFPD’s biometric technology would connect directly with the federal database.

Supervisor David Campos — who has been outspoken against reporting illegal immigrant criminals to federal officials unless they have been convicted of a crime — said he doesn’t know enough about the technology, but that it does raise concerns.

“We want to give police the tools we can to help them solve crimes, but there are always privacy concerns that one has,” Campos said.


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