>>> Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> 04/13/00 01:08PM >>>
Wall Street Journal - April 13, 2000
A New Strategy For the War on Drugs
Mark Kleiman of UCLA has suggested a program of "testing and control": Probationers and parolees would be required to take frequent drug tests -- say, twice weekly -- as a condition of remaining on the street.
CB: More from the land of the free. Fourth Amendment caput.
N.J. Police Mull Instant Fingerprint Scans Drivers Could Face ID Checks at Traffic Stops
April 12, 2000
By Robert Wang
WEST TRENTON, N.J. (APBnews.com) -- New Jersey state troopers may become the first in the nation to conduct on-the-spot fingerprint checks for people they have pulled over.
New, portable devices to be equipped in patrol cars, possibly within the year, would allow troopers to scan fingerprints and find out in less than 30 seconds if a driver is listed in an FBI database as a fugitive or a missing person, said Lt. Wayne Eveland, assistant bureau chief of the New Jersey State Police's Information Technology Bureau.
Officers now must radio drivers' descriptions to dispatchers, who enter the information into a computer terminal that connects with an FBI database to find any matches with warrant records. Troopers must wait at least several minutes before finding out whether to pull out the handcuffs.
Roy Weise, the FBI's unit chief in Criminal Justice Information Services, predicts the mobile scanners will be in general use by police departments within five years, and they will reduce crime.
"It actually enhances our ability to fight crime and helps remove felons from the street," he said. "You're preventing future crimes that felons would commit."
Concern from civil rights groups
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey opposes state troopers randomly fingerprinting motorists, especially if people were targeted for fingerprint scans based on race.
"They should only be fingerprinting someone if that person has been arrested. They don't have the right to just be fingerprinting society at large," said Lenora Lapidus, the state ACLU's legal director. "You can't randomly go up to somebody and say, 'Come to the police station and let us fingerprint you.'"
The purchase of mobile fingerprint scanners will not take place until the New Jersey Attorney General's Office issues a policy specifying the circumstances under which motorists could be fingerprinted, Eveland said. He said he did not know when the policy would be issued.
Link to FBI database
State troopers would instruct drivers to place their right index fingers on a glass plate mounted on a 2-pound scanner, about the size of a small flashlight, that is 6 inches long and encased in metal or plastic. The trooper would plug the scanner into a cradle attached to the squad car's computer.
The image would be transmitted from a state police mainframe computer in West Trenton to an FBI database in Clarksburg, W.Va., known as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) 2000.
The database contains information on about 500,000 outstanding warrants and about 100,000 missing persons. The search could yield a mug shot, which would be beamed back to a computer monitor in the trooper's squad car.
Weise said the scanners would help solve a recurring problem in identifying suspects.
"Quite often, law enforcement encounters individuals who either offer no identification, or the officer suspects that the identification he's offering is false," he said. "What he'll be able to do is scan that one finger in, and regardless of what name [the driver] gives or whether he gives a name or not, he can search that against our database."
Cost up to $1,500 each
The devices will make it less likely for police to confuse innocent people with criminals once their fingerprints have been scanned, Eveland said. The devices could also be used to identify dead bodies.
Eveland said the force has been testing prototype models since 1998. One of the two models being considered uses lightwaves to scan the ridges of the right index finger. The other model, which uses ultrasonic waves, can scan through paint, oil, a latex glove and grease on the finger and provides a higher quality image, he said.
Weise estimated that the devices would cost about $1,000 to $1,500 each.
But the fingerprint databases the scanners would access are still in their early stages. Weise said the $183 million NCIC 2000 had only 100 fingerprint records as of January. But he hoped to eventually increase that number to 250,000, by importing data from the FBI's 36 million fingerprint records.
Weise said the fingerprint database is small because the system only started last July.
'Quicker access to data'
So far, New Jersey has outfitted 10 troopers' cars with computers that can perform a wide variety of tasks, including processing the fingerprint scans. The computers cost about $10,000 each. Troopers plan to equip another 30 vehicles within a month, and within a year place the computers in all of the force's approximately 1,000 cars.
The computers also can transmit images (from a video camera installed on the car), mug shots, photos of missing children, information on suspects, license plate numbers, vehicle registration information and police reports.
>From their cars, troopers can search state and federal records
by names and dates of birth. They also can print out maps for lost motorists.
"The impact obviously is going to be more accurate data collected and quicker access to data to make appropriate determinations in that roadside environment," Eveland said.
Robert Wang is an APBnews.com staff writer (robert.wang at apbnews.com).