Countywide fingerprinting service aids Issaquah Police Department
July 31, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Voters to decide funding for crime-solving tool in November
City corrections officers at the Issaquah City Jail use a King County-backed fingerprinting tool to identify every inmate behind bars.
The tool is a useful component in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, a regional police fingerprint identification service. Issaquah officers used information from AFIS 2,100 times last year to determine if a jail inmate is evading a warrant, concealing a criminal record or using a false identity.
“Not everyone who comes in is truthful with us,” Police Chief Paul Ayers said in a July 27 interview. “So, very quickly, before they’re released out on the street, we get a return and know” if the suspect’s identity is accurate.
King County leaders put a measure on the November ballot to fund AFIS through 2018. Countywide, law enforcement officials said the system is a critical tool in criminal investigations and routine police operations. Other police departments in the county and the King County Sheriff’s Office rely on AFIS.
“There’s really no better way to build a strong case than with evidence and a fingerprint confirmation, which AFIS provides,” Ayers said.
Investigators use the AFIS database to match fingerprints and palmprints to criminal suspects. The system is managed by the sheriff’s office.
Issaquah officers send material to the AFIS laboratory each week for testing. Technicians processed 18,959 pieces of evidence for fingerprints from law enforcement agencies countywide last year.
“It’s an extremely strong tool for us,” Ayers said.
Still, the existing facility is aging and small, and needs upgrades to accommodate the latest crime-solving technology, Ayers said.
Officials intend to use funds raised in the AFIS levy renewal to maintain current operations and create funding reserves to replace the AFIS laboratory.
In a step seemingly lifted from science fiction, administrators also plan to adopt handheld wireless devices to enable law enforcement officers in the field to scan suspects’ fingerprints.
The measure on the November ballot is the latest AFIS levy measure to go before King County voters.
In a unanimous decision July 23, King County Council members agreed to place the measure on the ballot.
“For 24 years, our AFIS lab and staff have been providing crime-solving tools for use by all of our local law enforcement agencies,” King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert — Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman and the Issaquah representative — said in a statement. “This regional approach allows sharing of these specialized technologies and identification services among the county’s 39 cities.”
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 measure is expected to generate about $119 million overall through property tax revenue.
In addition to support from law enforcement agencies, Issaquah City Council members could pass a resolution to support the levy. Ayers is scheduled to present AFIS levy information to the council Aug. 6.
Ayers is also the King County Chiefs of Police Association representative on the AFIS Advisory Committee.
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.