By Eric Tichy
MAYVILLE - A palm print, left at the scene of a robbery last month in Hanover, ultimately led to charges against a Cheery Creek man.
Chautauqua County Correction Officer Thomas McQuiggan uses a live-scan system to fingerprint someone at the Chautauqua County Jail. Electronic fingerprinting has been used in the county for more than a decade, replacing the ink and paper system.
Electronic fingerprinting has become a useful tool for police agencies across Chautauqua County. The system employed at the Chautauqua County Jail can scan palm prints for identification, a method not widely used elsewhere, Sheriff Joe Gerace said.
A federal grant helped supply the live-scan systems throughout the county in May 2003. The ink and paper system once used to identify people during booking was replaced by a far more reliable, and less messy, process.
"We were definitely ahead of the curve when we got the machines," Gerace said.
More than 3,000 people are booked at the jail every year, the sheriff estimates. That does not include people charged and brought in for processing who ultimately do not end up in jail.
Anyone charged with a crime and processed is fingerprinted, and those results are run through state and federal criminal justice databases. Those in the country illegally also can be detected with the assistance of Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The Sheriff's Office has two live-scan machines, one at the County Jail and another at their pistol permit office. Other police agencies, including State Police at Jamestown, have an electronic fingerprinting system.
HOW LIVE-SCAN WORKS
Submitting fingerprints after booking is simple, Gerace said. Unlike the ink and roll system, the live-scan machines immediately will tell if a scan is accepted or not.
The prints are then sent for identification, and results typically take a day or less to return.
Back when ink was used, prints were sent by mail and could take weeks or months to return. By then, inmates - whose identities would remain unverified - could be released. If the ink prints were not accepted, the booking process had to be repeated.
"When trying to identify someone and you use ink, you had to wait for the results," Ellicott police Det. Brad Knight said. "Now you can have that instant identification if their prints are on file."
Knight said more than 250 people had their prints scanned in Ellicott in 2012. "Anyone who commits a crime that comes through here will get their prints taken," he said.
Capt. Robert Samuelson of the Jamestown Police Department said, "The main benefit is if you have someone who isn't who they say they are. You can get the results a lot faster."
With links to state and federal databases, the identification process has been expedited locally. With palm scans, officials have a wider net to cast linking criminals to crime scenes.
That much was evident following a robbery at a Kwik Fill gas station on Routes 5 and 20 in Hanover.
Daniel E. Mniszewski, 44, of Cherry Creek, was charged last week with first-degree robbery and petit larceny. Investigators with the Sheriff's Office were able to use a palm print left on a counter at the gas station to identify Mniszewski.
Further charges are expected for a similar incident in Hamburg, sheriff's deputies said.
Gerace said the proof is in the convictions.
"It's quicker and it's cleaner," he said of live-scan. "The image quality is fantastic, and we've been able to use some of these palm prints to help us in many, many cases."
The sheriff said the machines, which cost thousands of dollars, are beginning to show their age but remain a powerful resource for police. He said eye scanners are becoming more popular at jails, and could become a foolproof way to identify incoming or outgoing inmates. Costs, however, have limited their use nationwide.
"It's definitely something that we are looking at," Gerace said of eye scanners. "You can track everyone and know exactly who everyone is."