media coverage

London Police Develop Mobile Fingerprint System for Fast Identification

By Laura French
Courtesy of

Police can identify suspects within 60 seconds, without needing to bring them into a station, with a new mobile fingerprint system being rolled out in the next six months by the Metropolitan Police Service of Greater London, England, authorities announced yesterday. The new system is the first to be developed by a British police force, and will save police more money compared to the system the force has been using since 2012, according to a Met police press release.

“The speed of analysis of information that this device will offer will drive effectiveness and efficiency and allow officers to spend more time in our communities and fighting crime,” said Commissioner Cressida Dick, in a statement. “This new technology was developed from the ground up with the full involvement of our officers.”

The number of devices deployed to officers across Greater London will increase from less than 100 in the last few years, to 600 in the next half-year, with the system, called Identity Not Known (INK) Biometrics, saving the force £200,000 ($253,715) per year, authorities said. The system works with an Android smartphone and Crossmatch fingerprint reader, and connects users with a Biometric Services Gateway that searches police databases and immigration enforcement databases.

Individuals whose fingerprints are in the connected databases, due to having a criminal record or being known to immigration enforcement, can be identified within a minute using the mobile device, without the need to be brought to a police station for identification. Officers can then know if a subject has outstanding warrants or is lying about their identity.

In one case using the INK system, a mentally ill man found naked with no ID or belongings was identified through his fingerprint, with his name, photograph and descriptions of his tattoos being provided by the system upon the scan. The man was found to have left a mental health facility while under a mental health order, and was returned to the facility to continue treatment.

In another case, two men who were stopped on a traffic stop gave false names to officers, who scanned their fingerprints to reveal their true identities and outstanding warrants for weapon offenses and burglary, among other charges. The men were arrested, and searches of their vehicle and clothes revealed stolen property, a mask and a knife.

“The INK device was able to give officers an accurate and rapid result helping them to process these individuals more efficiently, so that they could be back on the streets helping to protect London and removing potentially violent criminals more quickly,” said Sergeant Chris Snell of the Violent Crime Task Force, in a statement.

The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) first began rolling out mobile fingerprint technology to police forces in England and Wales in 2011, according to The Guardian. Police in the United States have also been using mobile fingerprint scans for several years, with biometric records manager Bill Schade of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (Florida) telling Forensic Magazine in 2015 that the technology was “a game-changer for law enforcement.”

U.K. human rights group Liberty has previously criticized law enforcement’s use of mobile fingerprint scanning, calling the practice “invasive,” calling into question whether people will have the right to refuse a scan, and suggesting police might use the technology to unfairly target and “stop and scan” immigrants. The Met police press release notes that fingerprints scanned by the mobile device are automatically deleted from the device upon log-off.