Voters could decide $118.9 million levy for fingerprint services

May 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 12:30 p.m. May 31, 2012

King County voters could decide on a $118.9 million property tax levy to continue funding criminal fingerprint identification services for local law enforcement agencies.

The proposal is to keep the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, in operation through 2018. The proposed renewal levy rate is 5.92 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or about $20.72 per year for a $350,000 home.

The system provides criminal fingerprint identification services to law enforcement agencies throughout the county, including the Issaquah Police Department.

Voters approved the initial AFIS levy in 1986, and overwhelmingly renewed the levy since then, most recently in 2006. The current levy expires in December.

“As a regional crime-fighting tool, AFIS is our ‘CSI: King County,’ bringing new technology to the job of cracking cases and catching criminals,” County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “The AFIS program is one that historically stays under budget, and this new proposal creates $6.75 million of new efficiencies over the life of the levy.”

Constantine sent legislation to the King County Council on May 24. The council is left to decide whether to place the renewal levy on the November ballot.

“AFIS is our No. 1 crime-fighting tool in King County, solving more crimes than all other forensic sciences combined,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said in a statement.

Local law enforcement officials throughout the county, including Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers, endorsed the AFIS proposal.

“No matter if the investigation involves a crime that just occurred or a cold case investigation, AFIS assistance is available,” he said in a statement. “There is no better way to build a strong case than with strong evidence, and fingerprint confirmations from AFIS provide us the support and tools needed to close cases.”

In 2011, Issaquah police used AFIS resources more than 2,100 times to help identify inmates at the Issaquah City Jail. City corrections officer use information from AFIS to determine if a jail inmate is evading a warrant, hiding a criminal record or using a false identity

“Local cites are required by state law to provide their own police and identification services,” Ayers said. “Communities would not be able to support and maintain AFIS and biometric technology due to its cost and high level of technology and expertise needed by the fingerprint examiners.”

King County Sheriff Steve Strachan also backed the proposal.

“In my previous position as Kent’s police chief and now as King County’s sheriff, I have seen firsthand the value of the AFIS technology in identifying criminals and helping crack cases that may otherwise never have been solved,” he said in a statement. “The AFIS program is a model for the efficiency of regional services and shared resources, and I encourage the council to support this measure.”

The legislation sent to the council asks voters to continue funding current services, including a palm print-matching AFIS installed last year.

The maintenance levy proposal includes $11.5 million to replace the aging and inadequate regional processing lab and continue technology improvements started in the current levy cycle, such as fingerprinting in the courts and remote fingerprinting in the field by officers.

Officials said the AFIS program historically stays under budget, with savings returned to county taxpayers through reduced assessments.

In the current 2007-12 levy cycle, the rate dropped several times, resulting in $18 million less collected than had been approved by voters. No property taxes needed to be collected at all for AFIS in 2006, due to reserves built up in the 2000-05 levy cycle.

“As technology continues to evolve, it is important for law enforcement to have the technological tools available to use in identifying and prosecuting criminals,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, the Issaquah representative, said in a statement. “Over the past 24 years, our AFIS system has proven its value in solving crimes.”

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