Live 5 Investigates: Computer trouble causing possible delays in solving crimes

Source: Live 5
Source: Live 5

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Problems with a crime-solving tool that should take just minutes is now forcing police to waste weeks trying to identify criminals.

Because of a computer snafu with the fingerprint ID system, some local police agencies now have to drive all the way to Columbia to get fingerprints analyzed.
The automated fingerprint identification system, known as AFIS, is a valuable tool for police departments in solving crimes, anything from murders to break-ins.

"You're comparing an unknown fingerprint trying to get a match to a known fingerprint on file," Dorchester County Sheriff's Major Tony Phinney said.

The overall system is operated by the State Law Enforcement Division.

SLED says at the end of last year, the manufacturer of AFIS did a software upgrade that required new work stations.

But SLED employees didn't understand the requirements for the system to operate most efficiently, and AFIS systems at many police departments stopped working or slowed down.

Phinney says the misunderstanding had a domino effect on the sheriff's office and is causing a backlog on solving cases.

"We've gotten accustomed to having our AFIS machine. It's been very helpful. It's been very helpful, it's been very helpful in both eliminating suspects and identifying suspects," Phinney said.

Phinney says it his deputies have to process fingerprints from a major case such as a murder they will have to drive to SLED in Columbia.

That means the victim of a break-in may have to wait to get their case solved.

"It's important to the person who got their car broken into and that's how we look at it."

So what's the solution?

SLED says police departments have the option of paying their internet provider for a temporary fix at taxpayers' expense while waiting for SLED to come up with possible solutions.

A spokesman for the Charleston Police Department said they also are having issues with AFIS.

The spokesman said for now, the department will find a short-term solution that should have the system back on line early next week.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. All rights reserved.