RISC: Mobile Fingerprint ID Goes National
Written by Kristi Mayo   

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THE HEADLIGHTS on the 1997 Lexus were turned off as it drove down Interstate 95 near Ormond Beach, Florida at 8:09 p.m. on August 26, 2011. Florida State Trooper Rickie Zigler pulled over the Lexus. As he approached the car on foot, he smelled marijuana. When the driver handed over his identification, the observant officer noticed that the driver’s license and bankcard bore different names.

His suspicions raised, Zigler used a mobile livescan capture device to submit the driver’s fingerprints for a search against Florida’s

The Next Generation in Biometric Identification for Law Enforcement

automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) as well as the FBI’s new Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC). No matches were found in the Florida database—but within 46 seconds, the RISC database returned a match. The search revealed the driver had an eight-year-old outstanding warrant for murder and aggravated assault, entered many years before into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system by the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Sheriff’s Office. The driver was arrested.

Traditionally, an officer like Zigler would have had a few options when attempting to determine whether he was dealing with a wanted or potentially dangerous individual. First, he could have run a check on the driver’s biographical information through a radio call to a dispatch officer, or by initiating a search on an in-car computer system. Either method would have searched for individuals matching the driver’s biographical information in the FBI’s NCIC database, returning any existing warrants and criminal history. Second, he could have transported the individual to a police station, fingerprinted him, and checked those prints against a local, state, or federal automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS). These two methods are potentially inaccurate (if, for example, the individual provided an alias) and also time consuming.

However, with the use of a mobile livescan capture device and its ability to initiate a search of the state AFIS and RISC, a highly accurate response was returned in less than a minute.

This success story is one of the most recent to be returned as part of a pilot program carried out by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division to test the effectiveness of its RISC System. The pilot program began in 2007 and has involved approximately 375 agencies within six states.

On August 25, 2011, the RISC System officially moved from its status as a pilot program to a full operating capability on the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system. Now, RISC is available to agencies in any state that chooses to participate, putting a powerful tool in the hands of law-enforcement, prison, and probation-and-parole personnel.

What is RISC?

In recent years, the law-enforcement market has seen a proliferation of handheld, rugged, mobile fingerprint identification (mobile ID) devices. This technology allows an officer working in the field to digitally capture fingerprints (typically two index fingers, but sometimes all ten prints) from an individual. The device then connects wirelessly to an agency’s local or state AFIS and, in just moments, returns a response to the officer. If a likely match to the individual’s fingerprint is found in the agency’s AFIS, the officer is provided with more information, including any wants or warrants associated with that person.

The power of this technology to assist the officer in making real-time decisions during routine traffic stops, random on-street encounters, or at the crime scene was recognized when CJIS laid out the groundwork for the NGI System (see sidebar ).

“We asked ourselves how we could use this biometric technology as an investigative enabler,” said Unit Chief Brian Edgell with the NGI Program Office’s Implementation and Transition Unit, operating under the FBI’s CJIS Division. “How can we use the information that is gathered during an arrest cycle to help us, for example, in a traffic stop or in a random encounter where an individual does not have identification—or where the officer believes, based on his or her professional experience and training, that the individual is being deceptive or providing a false name or false information?”

The answer was a national mobile-identification system named RISC. The Repository for Individuals of Special Concern contains a subset of the national fingerprint repository. The RISC database is made up of biographical and fingerprint information associated with wanted persons, known or appropriately suspected terrorists, registered sex offenders, and other individuals of special interest. In all, RISC includes approximately 1.3 million sets of fingerprints, including those of about 600,000 individuals on the National Sex Offender Registry.

“Primarily, officers encounter people who have an open warrant from a state or federal court for their arrest, or they are a sex offender,” said Edgell.

The RISC system is available to process searches 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The database is updated in near real-time, as states upload their data to NCIC. “As soon as a state submits a warrant to the FBI, it is immediately available to the system—and therefore it is immediately available for all law-enforcement users,” Edgell explained.

RISC and the local agency

For many agencies, the concept of RISC will not be new because they already have the ability to launch a roadside query on their local or state AFIS using a mobile-ID device. Lead Analyst David Jones with the NGI Implementation and Transition Unit explained, “What we have done is open up this capability to be a nationwide service. Now, it gives the police officer access to a searchable national repository of information.”

The FBI CJIS Division works with representatives from each state—typically at the lead state-level police organization—to provide network connectivity. “The states then disperse their connections and relationships to local agencies within their jurisdictions by county or region,” said Edgell.

Each agency is responsible for procurement of the upgrades and devices necessary to access RISC. Edgell said that federal grants are available through the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

The RISC System is built upon standards and specifications that allow interoperability between different networks and mobile-identification devices. A long list of compatible devices can be found on the FBI Biometric Specifications website.

“There are devices as inexpensive as $2,000 per device and $15 a month to a cell-phone service provider,” said Edgell. “A small, ten-officer, rural agency can buy one or two of these devices and they will be connected just like your major police departments that have large IT infrastructures and staff to support tens of thousands of users. It is lined up to support all of the law-enforcement community. And it is not a significant IT investment.”

Working with RISC

A roadside query with a mobile-ID device typically begins by scanning an individual’s index fingers. Then, utilizing the Electronic Biometrics Transmission Specification (EBTS), the fingerprints are submitted to the most local agency’s AFIS first, then the state agency’s AFIS… and then a search is initiated with RISC. A response is typically returned within 10 or 20 seconds.

A search on RISC will return one of three response types:

  • Red = Highly probable candidate: There is a high probability that the fingerprint of the individual you just submitted is among the 1.3 million sets of prints in RISC.
  • Yellow = Possible candidate: A lower threshold of probability, but still a possibility that this individual is in RISC. Jones added, “With a new algorithm that came with the implementation of NGI Increment 2, we do not expect to have very many yellows.”
  • Green = No candidates for a match in RISC.

When the system returns a Red Hit, the officer is provided with information about that individual, such as their master name, their FBI number, and any cautionary or medical indicators that might be appropriate.

“Overall, this is much more reliable than a biographic check,” said Jones. “It could vindicate an innocent person just as well as it could accuse.”

Future capabilities

The implementation of future NGI increments will bring new capabilities for RISC. For example, one plan is to enable RISC to search against the Unsolved Latent File (ULF).

“We have about 600,000 latent fingerprints on file from crime scenes where there was no match in the criminal master file,” said Edgell. “With this planned capability, we would be able to search those latent prints and, if there was a match, notify the agency that submitted that latent print and inform them where the encounter occurred, and point them to the agency that encountered that individual.

“Some of those responses may be in real-time and some of those may be the next day or in two hours. We are still working out those details, but we are steadily moving in that general direction.”

Additionally, NGI Increment 4 will provide the ability to return a photo of the individual on the officer’s mobile-ID device if there is a hit on a RISC search.

“Receiving a photograph is just one more piece of data for the officer to process roadside and to assist that officer in making a tactical decision,” said Edgell.

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is the editor of Evidence Technology Magazine.


The Next Generation in Biometric Identification for Law Enforcement

When the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) was implemented in July 1999, it brought a new level of identification capabilities to law enforcement. Over the years, of course, technology has changed, computing power has grown many times over, and additional methods of identification have come online. Today, the term biometrics is not limited to fingerprint identification. It also includes palmprints, irises, and facial recognition.

In an effort to harness these new technologies—as well as to improve the application of ten-print and latent-print searches—the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division set out to develop a new system that would offer updated biometric identification services and that could result in multimodal functionality.

The new system, called Next Generation Identification or NGI, is being introduced incrementally. Increment 1 introduced the initial operational capabilities for the system, including faster and more accurate fingerprint searches. NGI Increment 2 rolled out in August 2011 with the national launch of the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (or RISC) mobile-identification capabilities. And within the next three or four years, the new system will completely replace IAFIS.

So, what is next for NGI? Here are the next few steps forward:

Increment 3:
Palms and Latents

In mid-2013, Increment 3 will come online. The primary feature of this stage of the NGI implementation is a national palmprint repository.

“By working with our user community, we found that there are a lot of states that collect palmprints at arrest cycles,” said Brian Edgell, unit chief at the NGI Program Office’s Implementation and Transition Unit, part of the FBI’s CJIS Division. “Today, on the legacy system (IAFIS), we do not have the capability to store that information, let alone process a search against it. So, we upgraded the system to include the whole palm and the writer’s edge of the hand.”

Statistically, 20 to 30 percent of the latent prints left at a crime scene come from the palm or the writer’s edge of the hand—that is, the side of the hand from the little finger back to the wrist.

Experts believe that the availability of a national palmprint repository will result in a “significant increase in arrests and convictions,” said Edgell.

Increment 4:
Facial Recognition and Rap Back

Increment 4, expected around mid-2014, will bring facial recognition online for NGI.

“This is a true image search,” said Edgell. “We have collected booking photographs of individuals as part of their criminal history. Now, if an investigator does not have the ability to search a fingerprint—say, for example, in the case of an ATM robbery where all you have is a photo from a security camera—we will now be able to do a facial-recognition image search against the National Crime Information Center database and provide an investigative lead.”

Increment 4 will also include a civil-related service called Rap Back. Many states have enacted laws that require individuals who work with a vulnerable part of the population—such as children or the elderly—to undergo background checks. Simply stated, the Rap Back service would notify authorized agencies of criminal activity reported on individuals in positions of trust. For example, if a school-bus driver from one state is arrested for DUI in another state, the Rap Back service would provide some sort of notification to the appropriate state agency.

The way the Rap Back service is utilized will depend on states’ individual laws and written procedures. “The part of the service we are providing is the interstate capability to make the state agency aware of an arrest event,” said Edgell.

Increment 5:
Iris Identification

Beginning in late 2012 or early 2013, a pilot study will begin as part of Increment 5 that will look at the potential for implementing iris identification in a national database.

“We know there are some correctional facilities today that use iris instead of an ID card, for example, for the inmates to manage their finances or to control their access to buildings or rooms within the facility,” said Edgell.

The potential use of iris identification is evolving, he said. “This is not going to become part of the operational business line that we provide nationally, but we are doing some studying of irises to see how we could use them—and, if we did, what we would do with them,” said Edgell.

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