High-tech fingerprints

Friday, August 13th 2004, 4:19 pm
By: News On 6

Criminals might be able to escape the clutches of patrol officers and detectives, but today's hi-tech crime catchers are able to find people who might otherwise get away.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright explains how Oklahoma's fingerprint system is doing just that.

Bob Yerton is able to find people who were at crime scenes when nobody else saw them, kinda like catching ghosts. He does it with latent fingerprints; the prints people leave behind when they touch things. He puts those latent prints into the AFIS system, the automated fingerprint identification system and runs them against the 195,000 prints in the state of Oklahoma.

Sometimes he gets a match. "At least it's nice to go to a crime scene and bring a latent back and within a couple of hours, know who was there touching things." Tulsa got a newer, better version of AFIS last year and it's working.

Tulsa's had 57 criminal hits so far this year, two hits on job applicants going through background checks and two dead people identified. There's a general misconception with the public that police officers can get latent fingerprints off everything at a crime scene. But a lot of it depends on the criminals' hands, how dry, oily or sweaty they are. It also depends on what they touch. Surfaces like glass are best.

Every time a person is arrested, their prints go into the system. National searches can be done through the FBI's database. AFIS has helped Tulsa officers solve all kinds of cases, including six homicides, in much less time than the old days. "Couple of minutes, to go out and search the OSBI database and generate a report here." A few more minutes and they have the name of that person.

Of course, the print only proves the person was there, it still takes good old-fashioned police work to find out what that person was up to.