Baltimore criticized for forensic biometrics delays, federal tribal program expands
Fingerprint biometrics remain the most widely-used modality for forensic investigations, and a pair of U.S. developments indicate the growth of databases to support them, as well as the problems that can befall them. An evidence backlog is plaguing a fingerprint biometric system in Baltimore, while a federal criminal investigation database is set to receive more support from Indigenous tribes in the state.
Baltimore Police’s crime laboratory is facing criticism after admitting to retaining a large amount of unprocessed biometric fingerprint data from crimes whilst working on a backlog of data in order of importance, writes the Baltimore Sun.
Testing of some of this biometric data has been pushed back due to the non-violent nature of the crime being investigated, in particular property-related crime. This biometric evidence could be used to clear those wrongly accused as well as convicting suspects, says Ken Phillips, a supervisor in the fingerprint section of the lab.
Concerns have been raised by several in the city, including City Councilman Mark Conway who accused the lab of not testing valuable evidence. Retired fingerprint analyst Roy Michael Jones echoes the criticism, saying: “If you had a burglary in your house the last three or four years, the chance of getting results is zero to none.”
The latent print unit conducts 3,400 tests per year, according to Kendall T. Jaeger, chief of the forensic science and evidence services unit, which is three times the national average, though lack of staffing has been cited as the cause of the backlog. Jaeger says the labs’ triage approach “provides prioritization, organization, and systemization into what had been, at best, a disorderly business process.”
Baltimore police department currently solves 3.6 percent of reported property crime, according to police department data.
Indigenous tribes join DOJ forensic biometrics program
Twelve federally recognized tribes have been added to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Tribal Access Program (TAP) for National Crime Information, in order to amass more data, including biometrics, in national crime information systems with the goal of preventing and illegal activity and solving crimes.
TAP, now comprising 108 tribes, has been run by the DOJ since 2015 and acts as a means of providing tribal governments with the ability to access, enter, and exchange data with national crime information systems — including those maintained by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division and the states. This data includes information about missing persons, convicted offenders and completed fingerprint-based record checks for non-criminal justice purposes, in the past TAP has helped to assist in missing and murdered persons initiatives.
Part of the program includes training as well as software and kiosk workstations to process fingerprint biometrics, take mugshots, and submit information to FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) systems.
“Increasing tribal access to criminal databases is a priority of the Justice Department and this Administration, and essential to many tribal government efforts to strengthen public safety in their communities,” says Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.