New MSP print matching software sparks new leads

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan State Police are calling new fingerprint matching software “phenomenal” and a “game changer.”

“We’ve got a system that just outperforms anything that we’ve been exposed to,” Lt. Rob Hackerd, supervisor of the Latent Print Unit at the Michigan State Police Crime Lab of Fuller Avenue NE in Grand Rapids. “Right away we saw that prints that are of a lower quality, we could get in the system and the likelihood of a match was greatly increased.”

In late 2018, MSP switched to a new provider for its fingerprint comparison software — Paris, France-based Idemia.

The company’s advanced search algorithm, which Hackerd said has been fully vetted, can find potential matches even with lower-quality and partial fingerprints. 

“Think of any type of search algorithm you’re using,” Hackerd explained. “You might say what’s the nearest restaurants to me. Ten years ago, you might (have) had one or two. Now, you’re getting everything that’s available. It’s just better mathematical direction to the right answer. As those search algorithms continue to advance and they’re being redesigned, we have a better likelihood of getting the correct answer to what we’re asking the system.”

State police explaining the new fingerprint software to Target 8. (Dec. 12, 2019)

In Spring 2019, state police used the technology to rerun 30,000 unknown prints from unsolved crimes against the state’s database of 4.5 million known and unknown print samples.

The state’s database includes prints from arrestees as well as people who were printed for other reasons, like a background check for a job candidate.

From the 30,000 unknown prints submitted, the Idemia software produced 11,000 new potential hits.

1,500 of those were from high-priority crimes like homicides, rapes, abductions and armed robberies.

“So, we have to get through that information, and again, we want to prioritize the most serious crimes. There’s a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done,” Hackerd said.

Once the computer system spits out a potential match, at least two MSP computer analysts must review it to verify the identification before sending it on to the appropriate police agency.

Then, detectives at the police agency in question must determine whether the print belongs to a potential suspect or someone who had legal access to the crime scene.

Included in the 30,000 “unknowns” re-tested last Spring were fingerprints from 53 homicides and 30 rapes in West and Southwest Michigan.

The new software found potential matches in 25 of the 53 homicides and 12 of the 30 rapes.

State police are still waiting for the software to prompt an arrest in a major case, though they did get a potential hit on prints from a 1980’s homicide in West Michigan.

Detectives are still actively working that case.

With the old software, Detective Sergeant Jason Sinke said the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) would produce a hit in 20 to 30 percent of the prints he submitted.

Not anymore.

“The norm now is to generate a hit on every print,” Sinke said. “(It’s) phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it, obviously.”

MSP spokesperson Lori Dougovito said the cost of the new Idemia system equaled nearly $8 million over five years for installation, hosting and maintenance.

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