Home News Stories 2008 October Catching Criminals by Their Fingertips

Catching Criminals by Their Fingertips

Catching Terrorists and Criminals
By Their Fingertips, Literally

10/10/08

The database is fed by more than 86,000 agencies.A man was arrested in Florida for loitering. Police fingerprinted him and electronically submitted his prints to the FBI’s fingerprint database. Within five minutes, Florida police were notified that their loitering suspect was wanted in California on murder charges. California officials were also notified.

Our Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System responds quickly to requests like this 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to help our local, state, and federal partners—and our own investigators—solve and prevent crime and apprehend criminals and terrorists.

IAFIS houses some 56 million criminal prints (plus nearly 250 million civil prints) submitted by more than 86,000 criminal justice agencies. Included in our criminal database are fingerprints from 73,000 known and suspected terrorists processed by the U.S. or by foreign law enforcement agencies who work with us.

IAFIS keeps communities safe. There’s no better way to illustrate how IAFIS works than to show how it’s been used. Other recent cases:

  • Texas Rangers reported four suspicious individuals along a remote part of the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Customs took the four into custody and, after determining they were in the U.S. illegally, took their fingerprints and sent them electronically to IAFIS. Lo and behold, there was a hit: one of the men was wanted on murder charges in North Carolina.
  • In Virginia, a federal program giving credentials to transportation workers sent a potential employee’s prints to IAFIS. Good thing—the man was wanted by Miami authorities for murder (suffice to say he didn’t get the job!)
  • Police in New York City arrested an individual on assault charges. His prints were sent to IAFIS, which sent back word that the man was wanted not only by local authorities in Pennsylvania on murder charges but also by the FBI on unlawful flight charges.

IAFIS’ expanded use. We’re taking part in a pilot project that allows near real-time sharing of prints and other information in IAFIS and the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification System, or IDENT. This means not only do the FBI and agencies like Customs and Border Protection have the benefit of each other’s biometric information, but also that local, state, and federal agencies using IAFIS have access to certain immigration data relevant to their cases.

We’ve already seen some successes. For example, Border Patrol agents working at a port of entry along the California-Mexico border encountered a man coming from Mexico claiming to be a U.S. citizen but who said he left his alien card at home. Suspicious, the agents fingerprinted the man and sent his prints to the joint IDENT/IAFIS program, which informed them that he was wanted by Los Angeles police on murder, rape, and burglary charges.

What’s ahead for our fingerprint operations? Our Next Generation Identification System will incorporate additional biometrics, like iris and facial imaging and palm prints, to enhance identification of terrorists and criminals even more. Says Tom Bush, who heads our Criminal Justice Information Services Division that manages IAFIS, “IAFIS has been a fantastic tool in support of criminal justice and the war on terror—NGI will give us bigger, better, and faster capabilities, and lead us into the future.”

Resources: IAFIS website