Sheriff’s department joins national crime database

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 20, 2006

Wanted felons who commit crimes in other states and hope tostart fresh in Lawrence County should think again.

Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames said his department recentlypurchased a Live Scan fingerprint system that instantly links itinto a national database of people who have been fingerprinted fornearly any reason.

The database includes criminal prints, but also the fingerprintsof law-abiding soldiers and even teachers and bus drivers, who arefingerprinted under recent law as part of their job applicationprocess.

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“When we place their palms or fingers on it, in seconds we knowif they have any priors,” Thames said. “If they’ve ever beenfingerprinted before it will come up.”

The database even includes many of the prints from federal lawenforcement agencies and some international agencies, he said.

“Whatever prints they put in the database will show,” Thamessaid.

The technology is not new and can be found in many largermetropolitan departments and sheriff’s departments, but it isunusual for a department the size of Lawrence County’s to have it,the sheriff said.

“Many smaller towns and counties don’t have it,” he said. “I wasreally proud to come up with the funding to get it.”

The state-of-the-art system, priced around $20,000, waspurchased from money placed in an equipment fund established fiveyears ago when he took office, Thames said. However, most of thefunding was eventually found through a Department of HomelandSecurity grant acquired last year.

“I knew when I first took office this was something I wanted usto have,” he said. “But it’s an expensive system and it tooktime.”

Members of the county’s grand jury have agreed with him over theyears.

“The Grand Jury, for the last several years, has been after usto get it,” Thames said. “The popularity of shows like ‘CSI’ havereally opened people’s eyes to what is out there. And then they askus, ‘Why don’t we have something like this?'”

The National Crime Information Computer, or NCIC, will still beused during routine traffic stops to check for wants and warrants,Thames said, because this system can’t replace that ability.

What it does do, he said, is allow officers to discover whensomeone they arrested for a crime, even as menial as drivingwithout a license, is wanted nationally for crimes that the suspectmay have avoided for years.

It is a further check to confirm that when the departmentreleases a person from the jail, they are not releasing a knownfelon back into society, Thames said.