A new state system for checking fingerprints against a national computer database went on line today. It's an upgrade made in the wake of an Alabama murder where it took weeks for a fingerprint to be matched to the Washington-area sniper attacks.
After at least three years of work and about $184,000 in software purchases, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation activated a computer link that lets officials electronically compare some types of fingerprints against the FBI's national database.
But the new technology only applies to police background reviews
of known individuals, such as criminal defendants, teachers and child-care providers.
Alabama still can't tie into the national system to help locate unknown suspects using crime-scene fingerprints. The ability to do that became a factor when police found a fingerprint on a magazine near the scene of a fatal shooting outside a liquor store on Sept. 21.
Only when the fingerprint was run through the national database, a month after the crime, were authorities able to link the Washington-area sniper shootings to the Montgomery case, leading to the arrest of John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, whose print was found.
FBI spokesman Steve Fischer says Alabama is one of 15 states that does not participate in the national system.