The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu Senior Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) will, in a bid to curb recurring crime, complete the automation of fingerprints by 2017, a senior official has said.
Addressing delegates at a city hotel recently, the ZRP director, legal services, Senior Assistant Commissioner Bernard Mhiripiri, said the system was long overdue.“Zimbabwe will have automated fingerprints by 2017 when the project is completed. This lack of fingerprint technology is affecting many Government departments such as the Registrar General’s Office,” he said.
The ZRP Criminal Investigations Department is using manual means for fingerprint identification, a development which has created a backlog in unprocessed fingerprints. They require a fingerprint search engine to facilitate real time processing of fingerprints to clear the backlog of many years.
Efforts to acquire an automated fingerprints identification system have been stalled by the lack of financial support.
Fingerprints are used by the police force in identifying habitual criminals and it is through this process that criminals can be arrested as their fingerprints would be readily available and be easily matched to them once they commit a crime.
They are also used as admissible evidence in courts and it has been proved that every individual has his or her unique fingerprints. However, lack of technology has seen the process of identifying criminals taking long in the country.
The acquisition of the state-of-the-art equipment would enhance efficiency and the credibility of the whole process.
Snr Asst Comm Mhiripiri said the unavailability of automated fingerprints had seen people cheating at the RG’s Office.
“We have a situation whereby some individuals are actually getting two passports which is not right,” he said.
Some prosecutors said fingerprints were behind schedule by two years and that there was nothing to show from fingerprints taken from crime scenes such that making convictions was difficult.
Snr Asst Comm Mhiripiri also said there was a need to train police officers on how to collect fingerprints so that evidence was not compromised.
“No ordinary police man can just go and collect fingerprints at a crime scene, they need training so that they do not destroy some evidence while trying to collect a fingerprint,” he said.
The issue of handwriting experts was also highlighted by prosecutors, saying there were very few available to assist in fraud cases.
They said when a crime was committed a forensic handwriting expert was called in to look at documents for signs of forgery and alteration. However, Zimbabwe has very few experts as most of them left the country for greener pastures during the economic downturn.
A handwriting expert studies variations in writing samples to try and determine if two or more different documents were written by the same person. Experts say the primary basis of this is that everyone in the world has a unique way of writing and that each individual develops characteristics that are exclusive to themselves which can enable one to distinguish two writings.
An official from the department of Home Affairs said the integrated automated fingerprint identification system was a noble idea as the police could easily identify a criminal.
“The system once in place will see habitual criminals being nabbed as their details will have been captured. With just scanning their fingerprints from a crime scene we can get the right person as no two people have identical fingerprints,” said the official who declined to be named.
He said the availability of modern information technology gadgets and a centralised command control system was going to ease the process.
“There is no centralised command and control system and data capturing is compromised in the absence of modern information technology based gadgets like computers. Without a fingerprint database some criminals get away with previous convictions by simply changing their names,” he said.
The fingerprint technology has been used most successfully in the United States of America. Police acquire fingerprints through criminal arrests or from non-criminal sources, such as employment background checks.
The fingerprints are permanently entered into a database allowing law enforcement agents to compare crime scene prints with those already held in the database.
The system also logs the fingerprint owner’s criminal history, associated addresses, vehicle licence plates and criminal associates.