Fingerprint system making its mark on local crime

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, August 16, 2014
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Most of us focus on what is taken from a crime scene. Tim Lamkin focuses on what was left behind.

Specifically, fingerprints.

Digital Digits

DIGITAL DIGITS – Tim Lamkin, a crime scene investigator at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, demonstrates how the AFIS system is used to help investigators identify crime suspects through fingerprint technology. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

A couple of weeks ago, sheriff’s officers responded to a report that some stolen vehicles had been found near Paradise. Officers pursued the suspects, arresting one after about an hour’s chase. Another suspect got away.

Lamkin, a crime scene investigator at the sheriff’s office, was called out to search for fingerprints on the recovered vehicles.

“We processed the vehicles and got a lot of fingerprints, especially from the Hummer,” he said.

Back at the office, Lamkin used the new Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to search for the suspect’s identity. It didn’t take long for Lamkin to pinpoint his man.

“Within 3 1/2 minutes of putting the fingerprint in there, I got a hit on the person who was not arrested,” he said.

Pointing at an enlarged fingerprint on the large AFIS screen in his office, Lamkin described how he uses points of comparison to determine if a fingerprint is a match. In this case, he hit on 20 out of 21 marks.

“Most counties, the number of points of comparison it takes to convict someone is about eight, but some have been convicted with four,” he said. “So when I hit on something with 20 points of comparison, ‘Sorry about your bad luck, but you shouldn’t have committed the crime.'”

The suspect’s fingerprint was one of about 14,000 in the system at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office. If it hadn’t matched a fingerprint in-house, the AFIS system allows investigators to search other agencies who use the same system.

The number of agencies using AFIS is growing. Locally, 28 agencies in North Texas and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are now using the system.

If Lamkin wanted to run the fingerprint through the Dallas County database, for example, it could take anywhere from 25 minutes to 24 hours to search through the million or so fingerprints.

While 24 hours might sound like a long time, it is still much quicker than the old system.

“It used to be we took our fingerprints, sent them to the Department of Public Safety, they scanned the prints, and to run it through the DPS system it took sometimes two weeks to identify somebody because of the millions of fingerprints in there,” Lamkin said.

The new system will help even if a suspect is not immediately identified. For example, Dallas may have fingerprints of an unknown suspect, and Wise County may also get the same fingerprint on a case locally. Once the person is identified, the matching fingerprints will tie the suspect to both cases.

When it comes time to take the case to court, the AFIS system also prepares a presentation for the judge or jury showing in detail how the fingerprints match up.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said the new system is a great tool in crime solving.

“Productivity-wise, I think it will really make a difference,” Walker said. “It will save us a lot of time, and I think we’ll be able to solve a whole lot more cases with it.”

Since the first of the year, Lamkin said about 14 cases have been solved based on fingerprints.

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