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Published: Monday, 6/9/2003

Accessing mug shots now a snap


MONROE - Minutes after the Monroe County Sheriff's Office welcomes new prisoners to its jail, law enforcement officers statewide are able to check them out.

At least their booking photos and fingerprint scans.

The information may not be needed while the prisoner is still tucked away in a cell, but law enforcement officials said widespread access to booking photos will be very useful in catching repeat offenders.

The Michigan State Police recently unveiled a statewide database of digital images that eventually will be accessible to every law enforcement agency in the state. The purpose is to share booking information with other departments by creating one large, central database.

Still in its infancy stages, the Statewide Network of Agency Photos, or SNAP, will offer one more way to identify and apprehend offenders, officials said.

“We're really in the first part of this project,” said project manager Jeremy Slavish of the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center. “We are pushing agencies to submit to the repository because, until it gets a lot of images in there, it won't be a very useful tool.”

The database will house all booking photos, including those of scars, marks, or tattoos. The system now has about 150,000 images. That will grow significantly as the booking centers in more counties join the system, Mr. Slavish said.

About 10 counties, including Monroe County, are ready to both submit to and access the database. Other counties are close to coming on board and still others would need to make a significant investment in technology to join.

The Hillsdale County Sheriff's Office is one of the agencies on the cusp of joining, Undersheriff Jeremiah Hodshire said. The department recently received a $34,000 grant to help it install the necessary equipment to send in its digitally scanned fingerprints to the state.

The next step is to link the fingerprint system with the department's photo system so that all images can be sent, the undersheriff said.

Mr. Slavish said Hillsdale County, like many other agencies, can send in fingerprints but hasn't yet linked its photo systems. Once this happens, the database should grow significantly, he said.

Once the system is built up, the state will work on the second phase of the project: ensuring that all departments have access to the database. Mr. Slavish said that part of the project should begin this fall.

“More than anything, this is an efficiency tool,” he said. “Investigators can look though other people's mug books without leaving their desks.”

The system is a technological advancement that is relatively new to law enforcement. Although many states have a central fingerprint database, they often can't share photos unless they receive a specific request. Like Michigan, Ohio has an automated fingerprint system and photographs of many inmates in the state's prison system are online, but so far, there is no centralized database of booking photos.

According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, there are no plans to develop one.

Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield, whose department has been a part of a pilot program that allows investigators to access booking information using cell phones, said the technological advancements in law enforcement have helped keep officers on a level playing field with offenders.

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