Smile in that license photo — now, cops can see it in their patrol cars

It’s not always easy for the police around here to identify a suspect, particularly a shifty one. But a new tool, made possible by grant funding, makes it a little easier.

Cops often have trouble figuring out who someone is, particularly if they don’t provide any identification on them (or they do, but it’s bogus). They’ve long had to rely on a physical description for such folks, and that doesn’t always mean they’re able to successfully figure out who they are.

A pot of $300,000 later, and now everyone’s mug — at least those of us with Washington state driver’s licenses — is available to a police officer in his or her patrol car’s onboard computer.

Officials are quick to tout the potential benefits. A person who successfully lies about their identity could be covering up the fact they have a warrant for their arrest, for instance. The system should be in place for most law enforcement agencies around the state by November.

Here’s the full press release from the Washington State Patrol:

(Olympia) – A common practice for a criminal when asked by the police for their name is to use a false one. But, it just got easier for police to confirm a suspect’s real identity.

Previously, police officers had to rely on text descriptions of physical characteristics to make a positive identification. New computer capabilities now give police throughout Washington the ability to retrieve driver license photos.  Police can use their in-car computer to quickly and efficiently confirm the identity of the people they contact.

“This is about catching bad guys who are trying to deceive us by using fake names,” said State Patrol Chief John Batiste. “We are now able to quickly determine the real identity of these people.”

A $300,000 grant through the State, Regional and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System (SRFERS) project and from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA) has made it possible for police officers to quickly confirm an individual’s identity with a copy of a Department of Licensing photo.

“The WATPA board members were convinced that providing this new technology to officers in the field would aid in the preservation of public safety and in the apprehension of offenders including those who engage in auto theft,” said Don Pierce, WATPA Chair. “We are extremely pleased with the results of this grant program.”

Lewis County Sheriff’s Office is the first agency in the state to have the ability to view DOL photos through the State Patrol’s A Central Computerized Enforcement Service System (ACCESS).  Most law enforcement agencies in Washington will have the capability to view driver license photos through ACCESS by November, 2011.

“We are very thankful for this emerging technology.  Our office has been progressive in keeping up with ever changing technology and utilizing it to keep our community safe,” said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield.

“Having DOL pictures instantaneously will help us in a lot of ways, including identifying people for criminal investigations, traffic stops, hit and run collisions, and helping identify missing or lost people,” he explained.

The grant funding by SRFERS gave many states outside of Washington including, Oregon and Idaho the ability to share driver license photos through the ACCESS system.  The funding by WATPA gave police agencies from around the state the same ability to use the system to quickly retrieve a copy of a driver’s license photo and make positive identification.

The ACCESS system is managed and operated by the WSP’s Criminal Records Division and is designed to give law enforcement the ability to query multiple state and national databases as a tool in the administration of criminal justice. 

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