Scanner speeds up background checks in Tenn.

By Chloé Morrison 
Chattanooga Times Free Press  

CHATTANOOGA , Tenn. — Fingerprinting is no longer just for bad guys and also doesn't mean an inky mess in some Northwest Georgia counties, officials said.

In Walker and Catoosa counties, new fingerprinting equipment has been purchased to expedite background checks.

These days, fingerprint checks are required as a security measure for many people, including teachers, candidates for office, police officers, parents who want to adopt a child or residents who want to purchase a gun, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

"When I started my law enforcement career in 1976 with the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in the fingerprinting division, we classified fingerprints with a magnifying glass," he said, noting the technology has come a long way.

One thing has not changed. No two people have the same fingerprint, so prints are used to check if someone has a criminal history.

Until the Walker County Sheriff's Department got a grant to purchase a fingerprinting scanner, taking a print and doing a background check took months, Sheriff Wilson said.

Walker and Catoosa officials said the fingerprint technology has been used in their jails for about five years, but another scanner has been purchased by both departments for administrative purposes.

Whitfield County sheriff's officials said they've had a scanner in the jail since 2003. In smaller Dade County, one scanner is used for both administrative and criminal purposes.

Sheriff Wilson said his department got the $20,000 scanner with money from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation through a Homeland Security grant.

No more prints will be taken with ink pads and sent to the FBI for a check, said Walker Probate Judge Foye Johnson, who noted that took four to six months. Now, the turnaround can be as fast as one day, she said.

Walker County Deputy Clerk Christy Anderson said response has been positive. Some who wanted to apply for a firearms permit waited for the new machine, she said, because the old process took so long.

"We are very pleased because we don't get any mean phone calls anymore," Ms. Anderson said. "If you come in here today, you'll get the results tomorrow. It is wonderful."

The FBI has been collecting fingerprints since 1924. In July 1999, the bureau developed the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which is a national fingerprint and criminal history system.

Sheriff Wilson said the new technology is far better than digging through file cabinets searching for one fingerprint, as he did at the start of his career.

"We've evolved into the digital age for the better," Sheriff Wilson said.

Copyright 2007 Chattanooga Publishing Company

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