New automated fingerprint system for Sheriff’s Office wins County Commission approval

Updated equipment expected to lead to identification of about 17% of unknown prints collected by Sheriff’s Office, chief deputy reports

Sheriff Tom Knight (left) and Col. Kurt Hoffman listen to public comments during the County Commission budget workshop on June 19. File photo

In late June, as he and members of his senior staff presented the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed 2020 fiscal year budget to the County Commission, Sheriff Tom Knight noted several looming issues that would necessitate extra spending at some point.

Among them, Knight said, the age of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which all law enforcement agencies in the county utilize, meant it soon would have to be replaced. It is based within the Sheriff’s Office, Knight added.

The AFIS issue led the list with the heading Future Initiatives.

Following a Dec. 10 public hearing, the County Commission unanimously approved $1,404,075 to replace the Sheriff’s Office’s AFIS equipment.

A staff memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting said that $882,853 of the total would come out of the county’s Economic Uncertainty Reserve Fund — the commission’s “rainy day” reserve. Another $420,721 is available out of impact fee revenue dedicated to Justice Facilities; and the final $100,501 would come out of the Law Enforcement Impact Fee Construction Fund, the memo added.

“Any funds not used by the Sheriff’s Office in acquiring and configuring the automated [fingerprinting] identification system during [the 2020 fiscal year] will be returned to the Board of County Commissioners,” the memo pointed out.

The Sheriff’s Office did return $101,939.34 to the county that remained unspent in its budget for the 2019 fiscal year, the memo said.

Image from the U.S. Department of Commerce via Wikimedia Commons

The new equipment is expected to enable Sheriff’s Office staff to identify about 17% of the fingerprints the department has collected but has been unable to link to an individual, according to a Nov. 25 memo to Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho from Col. Kurt Hoffman, general counsel for Knight and chief deputy.

Hoffman explained in the memo that the AFIS “is a fundamental piece of public safety equipment used on a daily basis to identify each individual who is processed in the Sarasota County Jail and to solve crimes through latent fingerprints.”

Not only do all law enforcement agencies in the county use the AFIS, Hoffman pointed out, but the State Attorney’s Office and the District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office use it, as well.

The memo further explained that AFIS originally was used by the FBI in criminal cases.

Since 2013, the memo said, when the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office last upgraded its AFIS system, the number of latent fingerprint cases “has increased by 32%. In 2013 the AFIS section analyzed 978 cases and in 2018, [it] analyzed 1,448 cases. This increase is based on the added capacity from an upgraded system. The Sarasota County population has increased 7% in the same [six-year] period.”

The memo further noted that 57% of the prints collected in the SCOS’s AFIS system over the past six years remain unidentified. “An upgraded system would bring major improvements and added capacity to the new technology,” the memo explained. “For example, 17% of the unidentified prints were identified after the upgraded 2013 system was installed. If this trend follows with the newer system, we expect at least 630 print identifications from the approximately 3,700 unidentified prints.”

“In 1997,” the memo explained, “the first Sarasota County AFIS was installed in partnership with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Again in 2003, the upgraded system was purchased in partnership with the MCSO. In 2012, SCSO [the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office] and MCSO dissolved the partnership and each agency obtained its own AFIS.”

The memo also pointed out, “Based on the ability to directly communicate with [the] FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) databases, SCSO continued to utilize the company Idemia, formerly Morphotrac, as its AFIS provider.”

The memo said that it would take at least nine months to build and install the new AFIS equipment. One facet of that initiative, the memo noted, would be eight “completely new servers to process the data …”

Further, the memo continued, although the new AFIS will cost $1,404,075, it should be 10 years before another upgrade is needed. An earlier proposal called for spending $1.2 million on the new system, the memo added, but that would have necessitated Sheriff’s Office staff coming back to the commission again in six years.

This is part of an exhibit attached to the funding resolution for the new AFIS system. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The County Commission was running behind schedule on Dec. 10 — a fact largely related to the number of people who addressed the board during the Open to the Public comment period.

With the AFIS replacement listed on the agenda as a “Presentation Upon Request,” none of the commissioners asked for a presentation when Chair Charles Hines checked with them. Hines added that no member of the public had signed up to speak, either.

Commissioner Nancy Detert and Commissioner Alan Maio both started talking at the same time to make a motion for approval of the request. Detert ended up with credit for the motion, while Maio seconded it.

After the motion passed unanimously, Hines looked out at Col. Hoffman in the audience. “Great presentation,” Hines told Hoffman. “Great job.”

That prompted scattered laughter among those in the audience at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.