Harris County Shares Fingerprints With Federal Agencies

Harris County is one of three jurisdictions in the country sharing fingerprint information with federal law enforcement agencies. The prints are matched against national databases in an effort to track down federal criminal violators. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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Pete Schroedter is entering information into a computer equipped with an Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

"Now we're going to start actually building the fingerprint record and we're actually taking just the plain impressions of the two thumbs. The system's going to capture that information."

Schroedter is the AFIS manager for the Harris County Sherrif's Office. Traditionally, fingerprints were matched against local and state records and FBI. But for the past month, every print has also been sent to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and US-VISIT, where it's matched against lists of high-profile immigration and criminal violators.

"Not only does it have immigration people, but they also have the capabilities to enter in even the terrorist watch list or even the felony -- the FBI Most Wanted can be added into that individual file."

Basically what happens is when a local officer makes an arrest, the suspect is printed, those prints are processed through the automated system and if the prints match records held by the FBI or ICE, the suspect is handed over to federal authorities. Harris County, along with Dallas County and the city of Boston, are providing this information as part of a pilot program. The idea is to get to a point where local and federal law enforcement agencies are inter-operable. Tom Bush is the assistant director of the FBI's division of Criminal Justice Information Services. He says this is the first time the FBI, ICE and US-VISIT have been able to share between departments.

"It's a near real-time capability so that when they print people, they meaning the Customs Border Patrol or ICE, they get the opportunity to run against our worst of our worst, about 600,000 of our bad guys. Then our customers, when they send prints in to us, we run those against the worst of the worst that DHS has."

In less than a month of information-sharing, Harris County has already arrested 16 individuals that matched federal records for violations. US-VISIT Acting Deputy Director P.T. Wright says these are violators who might not otherwise be caught and prosecuted for serious crimes.

"Some of these people had nine different dates of birth, eight different aliases, combinations of those to change up, knowing if they could skirt the issue of who they really were, that they would avert being found out to be a foreign national."

Harris County will continue to provide prints as the federal agencies test and enhance the pilot program. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are working toward a two-year goal of complete inter-operability between their departments. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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