Culprits quickly fingered with computer print IDs

January 18, 1992|By Brian Sullam

For nearly a year and a half, the Maryland State Police made little progress in solving the murder of Ruben Mosley, who was gunned down early in the morning on July 10, 1990, while driving his cab in Salisbury.

There were no eyewitness and no clues -- except for a single fingerprint found on the car.

But thanks to a computerized fingerprint identification system that the Data Services Division of state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has operated for the past six months, the state police finally have been able to identify a suspect through that single fingerprint.

"We never would have been able to do this under the old, manual search system," said Louis C. Portis, director of the state police crime laboratory, pointing to rows of file drawers loaded with more than 900,000 sets of fingerprints. "It would have been impossible under the old manual system."

State police official have refused to identify the suspect, saying the investigation is still continuing.

In another case, a fingerprint obtained after a jewelry store robbery lead to a suspect. It also enabled investigators to clear unsolved jewelry store robberies in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Ten people have been implicated in the theft of more $500,000 of jewelry.

Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson said these cases are excellent "examples of how we can use technology to identify and apprehend criminals."

During the past six months, police officials have been able to solve 100 crimes using the computerized Maryland Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or MAFIS.

It has taken five years to get MAFIS up and running, at a cost of $14.5 million.

Since 1968, the state has been collecting fingerprints of everyone arrested in Baltimore and Maryland's 23 counties. In addition, fingerprints of people applying for sensitive jobs, such as working with nuclear reactors or as child-care workers, have been added to the files.

About 100,000 sets of prints from arrested people and 130,000 from job applicants are added yearly, according to Paul E. Leuba, director of data services.

While the state has collected 900,000 sets of prints, they have been of use only when investigators had suspects. Investigators would use the fingerprint files to confirm that a suspect may have been at the scene of a crime, but it was impossible to take a fingerprint from a crime scene and trace it from among the 900,000 sets on file.

But with the MAFIS, police can take prints from a crime scene, enter them into the computer system, and within minutes the computer will scan through its collection of prints and produce a dozen prints that closely resemble those found at the crime scene.

A fingerprint analyst still must manually match the prints.

There are fingerprint terminals at police departments in Baltimore City, Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, and at the Maryland State Police crime laboratory that have already led to successfully closed cases in six rapes, 18 robberies, 10 auto thefts and 39 burglaries.

By having this large data bank, Mr. Robinson said, Maryland police also will be able to easily identify habitual criminals and obtain evidence that will convict them and keep them behind bars.

"We will use MAFIS to do what is necessary to reduce violent crime," he said.

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