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Integrated Biometrics Identification System

By Corporal William McCombs

A recent benefit of computer technology is the ability for a police officer to transmit a record of an individual’s fingerprint impressions from the field and receive confirmation of identity in the amount of time a routine detention takes.  Devices such as the Integrated Biometric Identification System (IBIS) or Remote Data Terminal (RDT) make it possible to catch wanted persons while they are stopped, regardless of the name or identification they provide.


In California, within the last few years, automated fingerprint systems managed by Cal-I.D. began appearing at different Sheriff’s Offices.  These Cal-I.D. bureaus worked with local police agencies and jails, taking over local recording of booking fingerprints before print records were sent on to the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of investigation.  Many success stories emerged as CAL-I.D. began to identify wanted persons and other using a false identity while the person was still in jail.  Once CAL-I.D. was established in various counties, an officer could mail or fax in inked fingerprints for an inquiry.  CAL-I.D. expanded their operation adding a unit to run checks on latent fingerprints discovered at crime scenes, comparing them to booking fingerprints in the data base.  In San Bernardino-Riverside (California) Counties, a regional CAL-I.D. program was established, providing ‘local’ hits from either county.

CAL-I.D. Goes Wireless

As technology progressed and wireless Internet became available, combination state and county grants provided for the purchasing of devices that capture fingerprints electronically, in the field.  These portable devices, weighing less than one pound, consist of a camera lens, optical capacitance scanning pad, and IBIS-enabled PDA.  They are made available to local agencies at no cost.  “The IBIS allows for an automated fingerprint identification system search of local data bases and if there is no match, a pilot project with the California Department of Justice allows for a search of their 19-plus million persons record data base.  A typical hit will occur within five minutes (locally) and six to eight minutes (DOJ)” (M. Pliss, personal communication, April 15, 2009).                                                                         

Impact of IBIS

Matthew Pliss, Field Services Engineer for San Bernardino County for twelve years, reports “quite a few” IBIS success stories in the last five years.  Individuals with no bail warrants are routinely identified and the coroner can often make a quick on-scene identification of a deceased individual by scanning their thumb print.  “In one case, a Victorville Deputy brought out an IBIS.  The wanted gang member he’d stopped just gave up, recognizing that his fingerprints would be checked.” (M. Pliss, personal communication, April 15, 2009). In 2008, over eleven thousand fingerprint searches were conducted using devices issued to agencies in San Bernardino County, California.  Just under 3,400 of the checks were identification ‘hits’ revealing 700 of the people checked had lied about their identity (Harper, 2009).

Non-Technology Alternatives

The capability IBIS and RDT devices can be duplicated, but not in the field.  In order to perform the functions this device does, an officer would have to take inked impressions of an individual fingerprint(s) and either mail or deliver them to a fingerprint bureau for an identification check.  There is no practical non-technology alternative.


Besides law enforcement agencies, every branch of the criminal justice system and every citizen is a potential stakeholder in this technology.  Identification of wanted criminals using false identifications to avoid capture has the obvious result of the individual being in jail instead of in the public to commit new crimes.  Congressman Jerry Lewis, who secured almost two million dollars in Justice Department funding to complete the San Bernardino- Riverside regional CAL-I.D. program points to one of the successes:  The arrest of an individual with “…. $2.6 million of warrants out for his arrest on charges of child molestation.” (Inland Empire News, 2009).

Although California agencies are leading the nation in implementing this technology, other states will benefit from this experience.  Instead of individual programs being started on a county level, once California systems are running smoothly, other states will have the opportunity to analyze which systems work best and implement a single IBIS-type program at a state level.


IBIS devices used in San Bernardino County run about $3,500 and BlueCheck handhelds used by LAPD are $700 each.  The cost to integrating cellular transmission of fingerprints into a law enforcement agency data base varies depending on that agency’s current hardware and software setup.  Federal grants such as the San Bernardino-Riverside grant obtained by Congressman Lewis are likely required as set-up can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Outcomes and Consequences

Success of the IBIS technology is spreading. In September, 2008, the San Bernardino Sun Newspaper reported that the Los Angeles Police Department, using a technology called BlueCheck, distributed 200 ‘IBIS-type’ devices to officers, with another 1,000 devices due in February, 2009.  Although the Los Angeles system is limited to county-only fingerprint checks, successful apprehensions are being reported, like in San Bernardino County.  LAPD officials report reviews such as “It’s and instant lie detector test” and, “Everybody wants them….(we) couldn’t keep them all on the shelf if (we) had them”  (Lowrey, 2008).

One consequence of the technology is the American Civil Liberties Union involvement with the following question: “What if this technology is used to collect and record fingerprints instead of just check them? Would the new technology encourage officers to embark on random, fingerprint-collecting expeditions?” (Lowrey, 2008).  Like with any other technologies, this at least serves as a reminder that there is a proper way to use the device.

Researching the cost differences of devices used in San Bernardino-Riverside Counties and those used by LAPD revealed a potential unintended consequence of this technology.  According to another technician familiar with Integrated Biometric Identification Systems, the BlueCheck device has a functionality issue.  While the hardware is smaller in size and easier to use, software embedded in the BlueCheck does not digitally verify a fingerprint it reproduces.  In other words, potential validity of a digital impression taken by a BlueCheck device can be challenged by an attorney knowledgeable about electronic technology verification (source information verified by instructor, personal communication, April 21, 2009).  Adverse consequences could range from a motion to suppress evidence to challenging an officer’s probable cause to arrest.  Also, the necessity of re-fingerprint a suspect could be required, causing future identification issues for individuals released in the field.  Officers using BlueCheck devices may be unaware of this lacking feature or the potential implications of a non-verified digital image such as the need to collect further evidence of deception before making an arrest.


Portable fingerprint readers are the latest in technology devices joining license plate scanners as a way for field officers to catch criminals and combat deception.  The results are more bad guys being captured and assuming that a few suspects are responsible for many crimes, a lower crime rate.  Although fingerprint scanning technology will only expand, the current challenge is interoperability, or integrating all data bases, local through federal, into what is being checked on a detention in the field.  Research suggests that the need for a device that digitally verifies impressions is a necessity.


Corporal William McCombs, (from a mid size police department in South California), is a traffic investigator with over 30 years of service. He is a Radar/Lidar Instructor, Bosch Crash Data Retrieval Technician Instructor with training in Sokkia total station-CadZone forensic diagramming, and Vericom accelerometer computer.  He completed this paper as part of the requirements for coursework in his BS in Criminal Justice Management at the Union Institute and University.


Harper, J. (2009). Mobile Identification (Mobile I.D.). PowerPoint Presentation, 1(1), 4. Retrieved April 16, 2009.

Inland Empire News - Information for Riverside and San Bernardino County. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2009, from

Lowrey, B. (2008, September 28). New Fingerprint Device Hits the Street. The San Bernardino Sun. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from