Sergeant James Thomson with one of the Sheriff’s Office’s new MorphoIdent Mobile Fingerprint Scanners

The days of lying about one’s identity to deputies in Yuma County are in the past. Earlier this month the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office began implementing mobile fingerprint scanners into their repertoire of law enforcement technology. This week, every deputy on patrol in Yuma County has been equipped with their own mobile fingerprint scanner to use day-to-day.

Created by Morpho and supplied to the Sheriff’s Office for free by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the MorphoIdent device is an iPhone-sized digital fingerprint scanner that can be used in the field to obtain fingerprint-based identification records from federal and state databases. Traditional methods of positively identifying possible criminals takes a lot of time, and subsequently taxpayer money. The mobile functionality of the device will allow deputies to identify subjects in the field quickly, taking a process that normally takes hours down to a matter of seconds, all with a simple touch of a finger.

Criminals rarely carry identification with them while breaking the law, and they are often less than forthcoming about who they are when apprehended by law enforcement. Not only does this create difficulties when conducting an on-scene investigation, but it also increases the administrative costs associated with charging and booking criminals into the detention center.

The device is simple to use, when a deputy needs to identify someone they simply ask the suspect to place their index fingers on the MorphoIdent’s built-in infrared scanner. The device then analyzes the fingerprint and searches state and federal databases to identify if the fingerprint already exists. If a match exists the device displays the person’s name, last known address, prior criminal history, any identifying marks – such as scars and tattoos – and a mugshot.

“It wasn’t very long ago that this kind of technology was just fantasy for an agency of our size and most of law enforcement in this area,” said Sheriff Chad Day about the devices. “These devices will cut down on the time and expense currently required to identify people who are uncooperative or dishonest about who they are. It is awesome that the state provided enough of these units for all the patrol staff to be issued one. This marries-up perfectly with the current project to acquire connected standalone mobile computers and printers in the patrol cars.”

While it is important to talk about what these devices can do, it is also important to talk about what they cannot do. It is important for citizens to be aware that while these devices capture fingerprints, they do not permanently store those prints or enter them into any local, state, or federal database. The prints are simply used for comparison purposes with prints already in existing databases as an investigative tool for deputies.

One of the devices has been assigned to Undersheriff Wills, who heads up the agency’s fugitive apprehension efforts as a Task Force Officer with the US Marshals Colorado Violent Offender Task Force. A common denominator for most fugitives is that they often assume false identities that allow them to fly under the radar of local law enforcement. This device will assist in fugitive investigations and undoubtedly will ultimately lead to additional apprehensions of wanted subjects.

Another one of the MorphoIdent devices is also being deployed in the Detention Center as a pre-booking identification tool. Periodically, arrestees are brought into the jail providing a false identity or are just booked in as “John” or “Jane Doe” due to their refusal to cooperate with law enforcement. In all instances, but especially under circumstances when a person’s identity is in question, deputies send fingerprints to CBI to identify or confirm the identity of an inmate. But unfortunately, that current process requires a CBI investigator to analyze the prints and conduct a search, which often takes several hours. This results in the subject being booked into the detention center and the filing of a plethora of paperwork all under the false identity. Once the true identity of the subject is discovered, jail deputies then have to go through the whole process all over again, submitting corrected paperwork to the courts.