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Fingerprint system speeds arrests in Ohio

2 dozen cases have been solved in a year, and 7 arrests have been made


U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection senior agent Arnie Villarreal looks at a fingerprint on the new Automated Fingerprint Identification System during a demonstration at the Brown Field Station along the U.S-Mexico border.

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Quan Truong
The Columbus Dispatch

WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Westerville’s latest crime-fighting tool has helped clear about two-dozen investigations after a year on the job.

The Automated Fingerprint Identification System most recently cracked a car-theft case that had been frustrating neighbors along a quiet street.

Using a fingerprint taken from a piece of paper, police identified a 16-year-old boy and charged him with attempted theft.

“I was really pleased they actually had the capability to do this,” said Joel Brown, the victim in the theft case. “You watch enough CSI, and you just figure they can do everything.”

The city began using the system in September 2011, purchasing it with $30,000 in money forfeited by criminals. At the time, a main provider of the system said Westerville was among the first suburbs in central Ohio to get it.

Used mainly by larger departments, such as the state, county crime labs and Columbus, the computer matches fingerprints from crime scenes to a database of people whom police have fingerprinted in the past, either through arrest or just being a suspect in other cases

Of the two-dozen cases resolved in Westerville, it has yielded seven arrests. Most have been burglaries, robberies, thefts and forgery investigations.

“I think that’s pretty good for an agency of our size,” said detective Tim Ray, the first Westerville officer trained to use the system. A part-timer is being trained to assist him.

“The time frame here is key. We can turn these cases around very quickly,” Ray said.

It took the system minutes to produce a hit on Brown’s theft case. The investigation was closed and the teen arrested within several weeks. Without it, Ray said, it would have taken 60 to 90 days to send out the fingerprints and get results from either Columbus or the state crime lab.

In another recent case, the system helped solve a forgery involving $6,000 worth of counterfeit checks from a local business by using prints that Ray pulled off one of the cashed checks.

“I think it’s a really cool system,” Brown said. “I’m just grateful they were able to make an arrest.”

When Westerville purchased the system last year, there was some talk among neighboring suburbs that it would be a useful mutual aid for the region. But to date, there haven’t been any requests, Ray said, adding that the city would be open to helping if asked.

When crimes big or small are resolved, it brings peace of mind to the victims, Ray said. “This really defines the system for us, because people think it’s not that big of a deal, but for the victim it is.”

Copyright 2012 The Columbus Dispatch