Friday 13 December 2019

Gardai fight crime with 'dark ages' weapons

Garda: File photo
Garda: File photo

Jim Cusack

Gardai in some of the busiest stations in the country are still using the ink-roller fingerprinting system that has been in use by police since the early part of the last century.

Only limited numbers of stations have the new computerised AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) terminals.

The €23m AFIS system was introduced, firstly into Garda Headquarters, eight years ago and was to be 'rolled out' across the country so that all gardai would be able to have quick access to fingerprint identification records.

But only about one in three district headquarters have the terminals linked to the main database in Garda HQ.

Those stations that are still relying on the old 'wet ink' roller system, where suspects have their fingertips pressed onto an ink pad and then the ink transferred onto a sheet of paper, include some of the busiest in the country.

Gardai said yesterday that the old ink and roller system is so antiquated that many young gardai have no idea how to use it. It is common, they said, for fingerprint forms to be sent up to the AFIS centre in Garda HQ only to be sent back because the 'prints' are smudged and little more than 'blobs'.

The lack of access to the automated system was highlighted in last week's report by the Garda Inspectorate which was highly critical of the low levels of fingerprinting done by gardai. The Inspectorate expressed surprise to find that the old wet ink system was actually still in use.

The report found that only around 30pc of suspects arrested by gardai have their fingerprints taken whereas in other police forces it would be far higher.

The Inspectorate expressed particular concern that people arrested for serious offences, including sexual assault, were not automatically fingerprinted.

In most other police forces the old ink system was done away with years ago. Police in the UK have 'thimble' terminals attached to their personal radios and linked to their automated databases so they can fingerprint suspects on the street. Most police cars in the UK also have links to AFIS databases.

Garda sources said the AFIS system stopped being rolled out at the time of budget cuts in the wake of the economic collapse. But there was also a decision made not to introduce it in stations that were in need of upgrading. As many station upgrades fell by the wayside, including some in the busiest policing areas, these were left without the new technology.

A garda source last week said that the new AFIS technology is one of the "best weapons in our armoury". In the past two weeks the new automated system was able to give gardai a proper identification of an eastern European criminal who was caught carrying out distraction robberies on people at ATM machines in Dublin city centre.

The AFIS system is linked to the Interpol database in Lyons in France, and within two hours the man's proper identity was established and also the fact that there were warrants for his arrest in other European countries. He can now be deported to face charges elsewhere rather than being allowed out on bail.

Last week's report by the Garda Inspectorate found technology failings across the board in the Garda.

It pointed out that the technology used in the main PULSE computerised information system is now obsolete and parts can no longer be bought for some of the Garda's other systems.

The AFIS system was hailed as one of the great technological breakthroughs for the Garda when it went live in 2006. But it subsequently emerged in a Comptroller and Auditor General Report in September 2011 that its implementation had fallen badly behind and there were considerable cost overruns.

The system was to be linked to similar terminals at the garda's main immigration bureau offices on Burgh Quay in Dublin 1, but a union dispute with civilian staff prevented this from coming into use for three years.

The C&AG report finding that only a third of all fingerprints were still being taken manually in 2011 was reaffirmed in last week's report by the Garda Inspectorate.

On its website the Garda describes its AFIS system as "at the cutting edge of fingerprint technology and proving to be of great assistance in supporting investigations".

The ink-roller fingerprint systems still in use by gardai were first introduced in police stations around the world in the 1920s and 1930s.

Sunday Independent

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