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Palm prints coming to WCSO

An equipment upgrade for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office will soon provide a second form of undeniable identification for those facing charges.
The capital purchase will replace the computers that operate the 10-print and palm print live scanners and the interactive screens in the two identification devices located in the WCSO Booking Department. On recommendation from the Public Safety and Budget committees, county commissioners approved a transfer of $32,400 from the WCSO Drug Fund during their Jan. 26 meeting.
Sheriff Ed Graybeal indicated the upgrade solution was announced in November 2014, and the devices need to be in place as soon as possible to meet Criminal Justice Information Security guidelines.
In addition to providing current software, the upgrade will allow the WCSO to begin taking palm prints.
“The FBI has started requesting palm prints. Soon they will be requiring them, and we are trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Rick Hawkins, WCSO administrative services director.
Hawkins said the WCSO takes an estimated 7,000 fingerprints per year. In addition to all individuals housed in the Detention Center, the WCSO provides the services for federal and state agencies, Johnson City, Jonesborough, East Tennessee State University and the U.S. Forestry Service, among others.
Officer Ray Anderson said the process for each hand includes scans of the first four fingers as a unit, individual scans of the four fingers and a scan of the thumb.
The interactive screen indicates when the quality isn’t acceptable and the scan needs to be repeated, which could be the result of worn fingerprints or smudges. “Sweaty palms are often the reason,” Anderson said. “We tell them to wipe their hands on their shirts or pants first.”
Officers wear gloves when taking the fingerprints as a safety precaution, and also to prevent the rare chance of the officer’s fingerprints being transferred.
The files are sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations in Nashville, which maintains criminal history files on the offenders. “The WCSO also maintains a local database because crooks don’t stay in one place,” Hawkins said.
The electronic files are maintained until the death of the offender, he added. “Since we don’t always know that, the standard is 100 years.”
Hawkins remembers mailing fingerprint cards to the TBI prior to the implementation of an electronic system. “If someone gave us the wrong name, we wouldn’t know for days. Now it’s minutes,” he said.
Speed throughout the whole system is another benefit. “Technology is becoming more available and more affordable,” he said. “We’re almost catching up with ‘C.S.I.’”
While the government has targeted many of its grants toward technology, Hawkins said the funds cover the initial purchase only. Mandated upgrades are the responsibility of the sheriff’s office.
“Technology can make the officers much more efficient, but everything comes with a price,” he said. “We are constantly looking for other grant funds, and we collaborate with other agencies whenever possible to keep costs down.”
According to Hawkins, the first of June is a realistic time frame to begin taking the palm prints. “Our goal is to have it done by the end of this fiscal year.”
Palm prints will offer a second means of identification in the cases where an offender’s fingerprints may have been worn off, which Hawkins said is actually possible in professions such as brick masons or contractors.
According the FBI Biometric Center of Excellence, palm print recognition inherently implements many of the same matching characteristics that have allowed fingerprint recognition to be one of the most well-known and best publicized biometrics.
Both palm and finger biometrics are based on information presented in a friction ridge impression of the outer layer of skin. The data allows a determination that corresponding impressions either originated from the same source or could not have been made by the same source.
Because fingerprints and palms have both uniqueness and permanence, they have been used for more than a century as a trusted form of identification. However, palm recognition has been slower in becoming automated due to some restraints in computing capabilities and live-scan technologies.