all types to pull up stakes and move to Idaho, Wyoming or even to another coast. Hence, statewide and regional networks are showing great success.

"Our network has proven invaluable to investigators of all types of crimes," said Victor Fleck, systems development manager for the nonprofit Western Identification Network Inc., which has linked AFIS data from nine states and six federal agencies to create a successful network. Law enforcement experts agree that it helps if the investigator knows the states in which a suspect might have existing ties, but WIN has seen out-of-state 10-print hits soar more than 60 percent for some rural states. Along with the changes in criminal behavior, there are other reasons why regional and, especially, statewide systems are becoming common.

City Surrenders System

Phoenix recently chose to give its $6 million AFIS, developed by Sagem Morpho Inc., to the state. The transfer was the first step in implementing the Arizona AFIS, one of the nation's most complex and comprehensive AFIS projects. The benefits for Arizona law enforcement were twofold: First, upgrading the 1991 Phoenix system rather than purchasing a brand-new one saved the state millions of dollars; second, the uniform statewide system immediately resulted in criminals being brought to justice. In the first six months after state-sponsored AFIS workstations were installed in the Pima County, Ariz., jail, 300 inmates who had given false identities were exposed. Last April, the system matched the prints on file for one of Arizona's 10 most wanted criminals, a sexual predator, to a man living under an alias in Maricopa County.

"Expanding the Morpho system to a statewide AFIS increases our range and efficiency of criminal investigations," said Frank Rodgers, latent prints supervisor for the Phoenix Police Department. "It is a good tool for latent examiners."

Tower of Babel is Tumbling Down

Since its inception, when only a handful of vendors existed, the AFIS industry has exploded, with dozens of vendors now vying for contracts. The competition meant agencies that had contracted with different vendors could not electronically share AFIS data, because of the different ways systems code their AFIS information.

In the early 1990s, the National Institute for Standards and Training (NIST) implemented standards for the 10-prints. It has taken longer to come up with standards for the transfer of latent prints between dissimilar systems. This important step in making sure AFIS technology can be utilized to its full potential is now near completion. In July, the International Association for Identification completed testing of the standards for both the 10-print and latent standards. While no agencies have purchased the system yet, the participating vendors, which included most major AFIS vendors, say the technology is now available to electronically share AFIS data between dissimilar systems.

"We see it as good for our customers, and consequently good for us as well. Now it is up to each individual jurisdiction to decide how they want to share the data," said Sandra Salzer, Sagem Morpho's senior communications specialist. "All they need to do is for the participating agencies to purchase what we euphemistically call the 'black box,' a translator that will allow the systems to communicate."

For a technology that seems to have gotten stronger each time it has broadened its base of data, these translators could be the final step in the effort to strip away the cloak of anonymity behind which criminals try to hide.

Western Identification Network, Inc.

Western Identification Network, Inc.


Raymond Dussault is a Sacramento, Calif.-based writer and a research director for the Law Enforcement Technology Acquisition Project. Email