NSW cops shun portable biometric scanners due to legacy experience

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NSW cops shun portable biometric scanners due to legacy experience

History comes back to bite.

Frontline police officers in NSW are using smartphone-compatible fingerprint scanners only a fraction of the time due in part to their past experience with the technology.

The finding, contained in an audit [pdf] of the government’s $100 million ‘policing for tomorrow’ fund released earlier this month, raises questions about the $4.3 million investment.

NSW Police deployed 1000 portable NEC handheld fingerprint scanners in late 2018 to allow officers to process offenders in the field and, therefore, spend more time on the front line.

The ‘Field ID devices’ are used to identify persons of interest and enrol fingerprints on the national automated fingerprint identification system via the force’s 4700 MobiPol devices.

They replaced a former fleet of handheld fingerprint scanners provided by IDEMIA, which had “connection and other issues that made officers reluctant to take the devices out on patrol”.

Scans had languished at between two to four percent of all criminal infringement notices and field court attendance notices issued during 2018.

NSW Police has the power to take fingerprints on arrest and can also ask a person to consent to providing prints if a criminal infringement notice or court attendance notice has been served.

Offering significant benefits over the legacy tech, NSW Police had naturally expected the new Field ID devices to “lift the rate of fingerprint scans”.

But the audit reveals that NSW Police “does not appear to have been successful in promoting sustained use”, with devices only being used to check fingerprints on just over four percent of occasions, as of December 2019.

And while there was an initial uptick in scans, where the devices were being used on between five and six percent of occasions, this is now at “a rate comparable to that with the older device[s]”.

The auditor-general said there was a “lack of sustained increase in mobile fingerprint scanner usage", likely due to "poor end-user and supervisor buy-in to the technology”.

It also said the experience of officers with the legacy devices had a direct impact on their willingness to use the new devices, a problem that had been identified in the business case.

“Officers we spoke to as part of this audit indicated that the poor performance of the previous technology had made them wary of the replacement device,” the audit states.

The report also points to a lack of ongoing training, with the force often relying on officers accessing guides on the NSW Police intranet to revise after an initial training session. 

“While the training emphasises the benefits of Field ID and encourages officers to use the device when they can we did not see any evidence that this message was regularly followed up,” the audit states.

“Efforts to enrol supervisors to champion Field ID usage were also not successful.”

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