By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Three of these handheld scanners will help officers get instant criminal histories on people they stop.

Soon, it won’t be easy to conceal your identity from Sandy Springs police officers.

The department recently purchased five fingerprint scanners for its patrol and special operations units. The scanners are “a new feature to law enforcement that’s value will increase over time,” said Jonathan Johnson, who joined the crime analysis and information technology unit with Sandy Springs Police in February.

For decades, people have been fingerprinted with ink and paper during the “booking” process at a jail after they are arrested.

But the new scanners give police a spy-type tool for instant identification if a person has been fingerprinted before.

Three of the Motorola devices are handheld and portable. The scanners can take a person’s picture, digitally scan a finger and search a national database for a match, all while cops are roadside on traffic stops.

“They are independent, self-contained, much like a rather large PDA,” Johnson said.

The other two devices attach to laptops in patrol cars to transmit digital mug shots and fingerprints using Bluetooth technology.

The mobile equipment that costs $2,705 was paid for through a federal grant, Johnson said.

The scanners “aid our officers in better identification of individuals if presented with certain situations that it’s needed,” said Johnson, like when a person hands police a fake or tampered with driver’s license or other type of identification.

Police ask people to give two fingerprints, usually from the index and middle fingers on the left hand, and the officer clicks an image of the person. The information is compared with a national database maintained by the FBI that contains millions of fingerprints. It takes less than a minute for a result, the fingerprint scanners’ manufacturer says. If there is a match, the officer will receive a person’s criminal history and warrant information.

Johnson stressed the scanners do not provide conclusive information about a person’s identity. “It’s just a tool,” he said. “We don’t want to take the human factor out of it.”

The fingerprint scanners retain all data captured by the officers. Software vendor DataWorks Plus stores the digital information in its database, which services several states.

“The system is scalable and expandable,” said Lt. David Roskind with the crime analysis and information technology unit. That is useful, he said, because “criminals have no boundaries.”

Johnson said the department will train officers to use the five fingerprint scanners and see if they fit the department’s needs.

“Every law enforcement department is unique,” Johnson said. “Some tools may work in our toolbox that don’t work in others and vice versa. We are in this as a pilot to see if it’s something for us to invest in later.”