PROBLEM/SITUATION: Current procedures for fingerprinting and photographing criminal suspects are labor-intensive, time-consuming and hard to share.

SOLUTION: The Boston Police Department revamped its booking and identification process using imaging technology.

JURISDICTION: Boston Police Department.

VENDORS: Comnetix Computer Systems, Digital, Panasonic, Identix, Next Step, Oracle.

CONTACT: Bill Casey, Boston Police Department, 617/343-4767


By Tod Newcombe

Features Editor

When four-year-old Christopher DePina was hit by a stray bullet on the streets of Boston in September 1995, the police were able to move unusually fast in apprehending the suspect. Thanks to the department's new imaging identification system, the district captain quickly retrieved a photo of the suspect, printed copies of the photo along with a brief description and distributed the information during afternoon roll-call. By that evening, the suspect was under arrest.

As Bill Casey, deputy superintendent for the Boston Police Department, likes to point out, under the old system the cops would have "never gotten a picture of the suspect within a day. Now it's not a problem."

In what has been billed as the first system of its kind implemented in North America, the Boston Police Department has replaced all filmed mugshots and ink fingerprinting with a citywide, integrated electronic imaging identification system. Instead of transporting prisoners to a central booking facility in downtown Boston, officers at the 11 district police stations can electronically scan a prisoner's fingerprints, take digital photos and then route the images to a central server for easy storage and access.

The imaging network gives investigators timely access to information and mugshot lineups and is saving the police department $1 million in labor and transportation costs, freeing officers from prisoner transportation duties that keep them off the streets.


The Boston Police Department is also the first city to receive the Federal Bureau of Investigation's certification for electronic fingerprint submission. In August 1995, Boston police began submitting electronic fingerprint scans to the FBI in a pilot project.

According to Casey, the path to imaging began several years ago, when the Police Department did an analysis of its operations to find ways to reduce the amount of officer time spent on non-beat work. "We're trying to move over to a neighborhood policing philosophy," he said. "We wanted to examine the work that police were doing that wasn't beat-related." Immediately, the department found a big chunk of officer time -- 40,000 hours per year -- that was spent transporting prisoners from district police stations to the central booking facility, where mugshots and fingerprints were taken and classified.

Transporting prisoners was not only time-consuming, it also posed a constant safety threat to officers. Worse, only about 50 percent of the prisoners actually had fingerprints and mugshots taken; those prisoners arrested on less serious charges were just released. "As a result," commented Casey, "we had a lot of people's names on reports, but no photo or fingerprint of them."

With the strong backing of Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans, Casey enlisted the help of Michael T. Hernon, the city's chief information officer, to investigate technological alternatives to the existing transportation and booking system. Aware that stand-alone live-scan fingerprinting and digital mugshot solutions existed, the city and the police decided to innovate and issued an RFP for developing and implementing an integrated system that put both applications under one umbrella.

The bid for the $2.25 million system was won by Comnetix Computer Systems, a Canadian company that had done work with a number of provincial police forces, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In October 1994, Comnetix began installing fingerprint and mugshot booking workstations at each of the 11 district stations located throughout the city. The workstations are linked via a frame relay network to a central server located at police headquarters.