Sheriff Unveils New Iris Recognition Technology
By: Michael C. Bailey
James M. Cummings, Barnstable County sheriff, got an early Christmas present Monday, a new tool to help police catalog criminals and recover missing persons.
“I was hoping for a boat,” Sheriff Cummings joked, but what he got instead – thanks to a grant from the National Sheriff’s Association – was a new four-in-one system that will link the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department with a small but growing number of national databases, each with a distinct purpose.
The Child Project and the Senior Safety Net systems can be used to track missing children and senior citizens; IRIS (Inmate Recognition and Identification System) catalogs inmates as they enter prisons and houses of corrections; and SORIS (Sex Offender Recognition and Information System) complements sex offender registries.
“This will spawn a revolution in law enforcement,” said Congressman William D. Delahunt, who helped secure the $10,000 grant, which benefited not only the Barnstable and Plymouth County Sheriffs Departments, but the Brockton Police Department as well.
“I’m excited about his technology,” Rep. Delahunt said, comparing the advent of biometrics to the advent of DNA evidence during his days as the Norfolk County district attorney.
The system uses iris biometrics to positively identify individuals entered into a particular database. According to Joseph D. McDonald, Plymouth County sheriff, the human iris (the colored part of the eye) is “the most biometric feature that’s visible on the human body,” even more distinct than fingerprints – and, unlike fingerprints, impossible to obscure or alter.
According to Patricia Lawton, senior development officer of BI2 Technologies, the company that developed the hardware and software, the system takes a high resolution digital picture of the subject’s eyes. A trained system user attaches that image to a detailed profile that is entered into the appropriate database.
Through any system tied into the databases, regardless of their location, law enforcement officers can within seconds positively identify any suspect who has already been entered into the IRIS or SORIS systems -- or in the case of a missing senior citizen or child, confirm the individual’s identity through the Senior Safety Net and Child Project databases, respectively.
Sheriff Cummings said his department has used a similar device for its Child Identification Program (CHIP) for 10 years, and the new stationary system will be used primarily for processing inmates at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility. A number of corrections officers were trained on the new system last Friday.
He plans to work with local Triad organizations to conduct registration drives for the Senior Safety Net program, which the sheriff said would be especially beneficial for the region’s “snowbird” community, since anyone registered on the Cape would be entered into a database accessible by authorities in Florida, and vice-versa.
Sheriff Cummings said there is no ongoing cost attached to operating the system.
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