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Secure ID for Massachusetts Police Takes Off

Uniform security features will thwart police impersonators, officials say.

In Massachusetts, 13,000 police officers will be carrying a secure, standardized identification card — replacing a hodgepodge of old IDs that varied depending on the jurisdiction.

To make the cards, the state is contracting with MorphoTrust, which makes most U.S. passport cards and state drivers’ licenses, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association announced this month. Each police station in Massachusetts must pay $300 for start-up costs and the IDs themselves cost $9.50 apiece. The state is paying for both costs with federal homeland security funding.

Security features of the new cards include statewide standardization; unique serial numbers; an “optical variable device” similar to what’s found on a driver’s license or passport; ghost images and overlapping data.

The state also began, a website donated by Boston Web Designers that provides information about the new IDs to educate citizens about the change. The secure ID card program is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the website says.

Previously police ID cards in Massachusetts varied in appearance. Security features were generally limited to a signature and a photograph of the officer. Counterfeiting was easy because the old cards were simplistic and the average citizen had no way of knowing what an authentic police ID was supposed to look like, said William Brooks III, deputy police chief of Wellesley, Mass.

“We see people impersonating police officers all the time in dealing with the public,” Brooks said. Security personnel at large venues or citizens may not be as astute when it comes to sniffing out a fake, he said.

“Back in the day, officers used to carry badges and their possession of it would indicate who they were,” Brooks said. “Then I think the feeling was that a picture ID was probably more secure, so departments began issuing those. And then, in reality, with the development of technology and off-the-shelf software and card printers, they are actually easier to manufacture than a badge would be.”

The public might be surprised to learn that most police departments across the U.S. don’t have a uniform, secure ID card, Brooks said “I think it’s overdue; I think it was well worth it,” Brooks said about the new secure identification.

In addition to improved security, the new cards bring other benefits — like not having to keep a dedicated computer, printer, software and blank cards stocked at the station, said Jamie Gagnon of MorphoTrust.

“I think there’s an acknowledgement that standardized credentials would be a good thing, but unfortunately I think it’s more of a ‘would like to have’ as opposed to a ‘really necessary,’” Gagnon said. Massachusetts made statewide standardization of police IDs a priority — the first state to do so, Gagnon said.

The difficulty is getting everyone in a state on the same page and motivated to make it happen, Gagnon said. “A policy decision has to be made statewide,” he said.

The future of secure identification could be outlined in HSPD-12, a U.S. Homeland Security Presidential Directive that creates the need for sophisticated and standardized identification cards for federal contractors and employees. HSPD-12-compliant card systems use biometric data like fingerprints, and make use of smart card technology, as well as additional certifications. This type of card is much more expensive than what Massachusetts currently has, Gagnon said, and would have been much too large of a step away from using an inkjet printer.

Massachusetts may be a trendsetter in this arena, as New York state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz announced Assembly Bill 8542, which calls for standardized identification for all police and peace officers in the state.