For nearly 40 years, the police department in Henderson, Nev., collected criminals' palm prints and stored them for a rainy day. That day finally came in June 2003, thanks to an upgrade of the city's entire public safety communication system.

The project included scanning several decades of palm prints into a newly created database, which already produced some arrests. Henderson's palm database is part of a digital justice solution that integrates existing software systems into a records management system, giving officers in the field simple and immediate access to multiple information sources previously inaccessible to police on the go.

Collecting and storing palm prints and fingerprints gives authorities a greater chance of linking suspects to crimes, said Henderson Police Capt. Jutta Chambers. "Sometimes because of the type of surface that somebody is grabbing or the location of the surface they touch, the only part that actually keeps any ridge detail is the palm."

Palm Print Database

The Henderson Police Department is the only agency in Nevada that routinely collects palm prints. Most agencies take a palm print only in major cases, such as murder, to link a suspect's prints to prints at the scene, Chambers said.

Prior to deploying the new system, however, Henderson authorities had a difficult time using the information. They occasionally tried to link crimes to palm prints on file, but it was time consuming and a specific person had to be in mind.

Now Henderson police can electronically search a newly scanned print and link it with a print in the system if one exists. The system can also link suspects to previous crimes for which no one was ever caught.

More Than a Name

With Henderson's digital justice system, supplied by Motorola, a person's name also means more than it did before. Police in the field can, with on e query, scan for information on previous arrests, old reports, stolen property, traffic violations, and search a history of people and addresses previously involved in crimes.

The system puts information at the fingertips of officials who need it -- including fire, animal control and marshals -- through a single query. Previously multiple queries had to be made to find all the information on one subject.

Prior to this system, if John Doe was involved in a traffic accident five years ago and was arrested recently on burglary charges, there would have been two different records in two databases. Now, entering John Doe's name will yield both incidents in the same query.

"If you've been the victim of a traffic accident in Henderson, you're in our records management system," Chambers said. "If you now get arrested several months or a year later, [the system] knows we've already talked to you before. So now, if I run a person, he's in there one time, but all the things that happened to him are listed there, instead of there being five or six different records."

There is also a jail management component that automates the correctional facility's day-to-day operational and administrative functions. This component is a suite of integrated applications that facilitate the nearly 12,000 bookings per year and manages the daily population of 100-plus offenders.

The system comprises Motorola public safety products, some of which were already in place, including PublicSpeak, the company's common information model, which provides an XML schema across applications; automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS)/palm print identification technology; a LiveScan fingerprint scanner; Motorola's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system; and Infotrak, which gives officials access to multiple databases with one query, and also allows them to create and submit reports through the Web.

A GIS mapping component tells police where a call originated and the shortest route to the incident. This feature has improved response times, Chambers said, adding that the system allows officers to prioritize calls on their laptops without losing earlier, less dire calls.

"The calls stay on the officer's laptop," Chambers said. "As soon as he's done with the high-priority call, the other calls are waiting for him and he can get right to them."

Keeping It Current

The police department began implementing the new, additional mobile communication software at the end of 2004. It allows officers to view former arrestees' mug shots from the patrol car and send text messages back and forth instead of using the radio. This mobile data communication piece will let officers query federal databases, such as the National Crime Information Center database, from the patrol car and view mug shots.

The previous mobile software was deployed nearly four years ago by a different vendor and was not as tightly integrated with the CAD system as Henderson would like.

"That company wasn't keeping it current, so it wouldn't progress as quickly as our other software was," Chambers said. "We're a very proactive agency. We really like to keep our technology as current as we can, and that software wasn't doing that for us."

Henderson spent nearly $6 million on the new digital justice solution so far, including the purchase of 320 laptops for police cars and the accompanying software -- the CAD system, the AFIS/palm print identification piece, the jail management system and most recently, the mobile software piece and report writing software, which is scheduled to go live in April 2005.

After that, the department plans to connect the system with the Las Vegas Detention and Enforcement Department. "They are going to connect to our CAD system and then eventually have our mobile environment for their officers, so our officers and their officers will be able to communicate with each other," Chambers said. "We're really looking forward to that. It will be a huge step."

The biggest benefit to the Henderson police and fire departments so far is the improved response time. The system could save money in the long run by making public safety more efficient, and if that happens, it will be icing on the cake.

"I'm not sure how much money it's saved us, but for a police department, being able to get to critical calls more quickly and having information that our officers need when they need it is critical," Chambers said. "And that's where it's really been a help."

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor