Fighting Keystone Crime

Pennsylvania criminals are feeling the heat as the state relies on technology to keep its streets safe.

by / October 30, 2000
By Jim McKay | Staff Writer

Pennsylvania criminals are feeling the heat as the state relies on technology to keep its streets safe.

Criminals in Pennsylvania are now unwilling participants in the states use of technological crime-fighting tactics. Law enforcement officials have taken the upper hand and integrated two separate technologies to create one powerful database.

The Commonwealth Photo Imaging Network (CPIN) is a computer network that extends throughout most of Pennsylvania and is used to record and store digital photos of crime suspects. The digital photos are taken at booking centers around the state and fed into a database, which contains more than 315,000 images. Photos are taken of a suspects face, tattoos, birthmarks or any other unique feature that may help accurately identify him or her.

The second technology employed by law enforcement officials is LiveScan, a system used by booking facilities to digitally record the fingerprints of arrested individuals.

Behind the Technology
Although CPIN and LiveScan are used in various agencies throughout the U.S., Pennsylvania uses the two interchangeably, thus creating a powerful tool against crime. This unique combination of systems has made it possible for police to produce a rap sheet on a suspect
immediately at the booking facility.

"The concept is to centralize regional booking centers and equip them with the latest technology," said Mike Garipoli, project coordinator of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. "What this does is enable an investigator to bring a witness right to a computer screen, and a detective can get a description of the assailant from the witness
and punch it in to the database," said Garipoli, adding that the detective enters as many features about the suspect as the witness can give and then conducts a search. "You enter the information and it will come right back with possible candidates instead of having the witness
go through mug-shot books."

"Say you come to Philadelphia and you get mugged," said Eric Radnovich of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Offender Identification Committee. "You sort of have an idea [of] what the guy looked like, so we can search those 315,000 photos quickly and come up with a descriptor."

Fingerprints are electronically scanned and sent to the Pennsylvania State Police Repository in Harrisburg. Up to eight digital photos on each individual can then be stored in a "lineup" at the repository. The photos, fingerprints and any other documentation on the suspect are immediately accessible at the booking centers.

The digital-photo system has rendered the previous storage system of files and drawers full of photos obsolete. "The paper on the photos starts to curl, the photos smudge, they turn yellow. You get away from all that with the digital-photo imaging," said Radnovich. "What we can do with photographs [today] is amazing."

Radnovich noted a recent case in which the local police had a woman in custody who was wanted in a number of places, including Canada. Police requested a photo to identify the woman, but the photo, which was faxed, was in no condition to pass the inspection of a judge, and the police were forced to release the woman. If Canada had the digital-photo system, the photo could have been accessed in minutes and the woman would have been arrested.

The Moneys in the Numbers
According to officials, about 76 percent of Pennsylvanias sheriffs departments and police stations have access to LiveScan technology. The state repository maintains 8.5 million sets of fingerprints resulting from arrests and about 8,000 sets of latent prints -- unidentified prints taken from crime scenes -- that can be used later to connect individuals to crimes. An added advantage of LiveScan is that it matches prints to other prints, not just to names. This technology has enabled law enforcement to link suspects in custody to other crimes, even in cases where a latent fingerprint was the only evidence left behind.

Funds for the projects are provided by grants from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Officials said the benefits of the approximately $4 million spent on the LiveScan project to date appear in the number of man hours saved and in the elimination of the task of sending print cards to the state police via mail and waiting for an
examiner to process them.

The technology has also increased the importance of central booking facilities, which reduce the manpower required for transporting suspects to the more than 1,200 police departments in Pennsylvania. "Not only did [transporting suspects] keep officer[s] off the street where [they] need to be, it created a safety issue," Garipoli said, adding that the more times a prisoner is transferred, the better the chance for a breach in security.

"What happened in the old system is the cop ended up being a taxi driver," said Radnovich. "With booking centers, its one-stop shopping."

Smile for the Camera
Digital arraignment is another innovation that is beginning to find its way into booking centers and district justice offices in Philadelphia and Cumberland County. Using digital arraignment, a suspect is arraigned via video conferencing, further curbing the need to transport the individual.

Suspects are photographed, fingerprinted and held at the booking centers to await arraignment, which occurs every eight hours. At a preset arraignment time, the on-call justice will phone in to the booking center and the suspect is put in front of a TV camera and arraigned via video.

"Those who are going to be committed to jail stay at the booking facility until the sheriffs department comes and gets them all at once, instead of the old system where the cops were picking people up and dropping them off all day and night. It was a circus," said Radnovich.

The equipment that is used can be purchased commercially and assembled easily. The real problem, according to Radnovich, is proper protocol with the local courts. Cumberland County began experimenting with digital arraignment two years ago and is still ironing out the kinks.

"Were a little beyond experimentation, but not too far beyond it," said Radnovich. "We had nothing to go by when we started. A lot of it has been trial and error."

Radnovich, who works for the district attorneys office in Carlisle, Pa., said his district operates the only two full-time booking centers in the state, but that as many as eight counties are scheduled to establish centers by the end of next year.

Federal Boost
Radnovich said the FBI is pushing the idea of booking centers and is investing money to set up systems to be receptors for electronic fingerprints and electronic photos. "Pennsylvania has kind of followed that lead and has actually helped the federal government in this process. Some of the standards that we set up are actually higher than what the feds set up so they bumped up their standards."

And Pennsylvania is beginning to show other jurisdictions how to follow its lead, Radnovich said. "Its nice to be able to tell other counties, heres how it works and it will work for you. "