Q13 FOX Season of Giving

Law enforcement says a fingerprinting levy on the ballot is an essential crime fighting tool for King County

KING COUNTY - A levy on the King County ballot has some questioning if it is an essential crime-fighting tool or a potential overreach that could lead to the implementation of facial recognition software.

The tool is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System or AFIS.

On Monday, Mark Roberts showed Q13 News a demonstration of how he does his job. He has been doing it for the past 11 years and in that time, AFIS has helped catch hundreds of suspects. Just on Monday, he identified a kidnapping suspect using a partial palm print.

Now the future of AFIS comes down to voters with the AFIS renewal levy on the ballot. If it passes it would cost less for property owners than it did in previous years.

It would be $21 a year for a home worth $600,000. Before it was around $25.

The levy would last for 6 years.

But the concern for the ACLU isn't over tax dollars, it's about possible advances from fingerprinting to facial recognition.

“If they wanted to do facial recognition that should have been put in front of the public, to simply hide it under this rubrics of biometric technology let the public decide,” Shankar Narayan with the ACLU said.

ACLU says facial recognition is a privacy and civil rights concern.

“Facial recognition can be applied to any existing video, so police body camera, any surveillance video, any video that's out there retroactively subjected to facial recognition and you would never know,” Narayan said.

Council member Rod Dembowski says Narayan is unnecessarily jeopardizing an essential crime-fighting tool.

“That helps us catch murderers, rapists and other violent offenders because he has a concern over something that may not even come to be,” Dembowski said.

Dembowski added that facial recognition wasn't even contemplated and it’s not earmarked in the budget.

King County Sheriff reiterating what Dembowski said.

“There is no plan to use facial recognition,” Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said.

Johanknecht says the levy would be used to continue the current work AFIS  is doing. Adding that if the measure is rejected the impact will be more than just hundreds of cases not being solved.

“I think it will be bigger than that," Johanknecht said.

AFIS is used by 40 different law enforcement agencies and Johanknecht says if AFIS disappears police agencies will be on their own to gather fingerprints adding to the backlog of unsolved cases. Johanknecht says detectives would have to send the prints to the state meaning longer wait times.

“Crimes that most of us are affected by the car prowls, the vehicle thefts, burglaries that would fall down in priority,” Johanknecht said.

And when it comes to deciphering partial fingerprints, something AFIS has mastered, Johanknecht says those cases may never be solved.

Both Johanknecht and Dembowski say if the technology were to ever advance beyond fingerprinting public meetings would be held so people could weigh in.

Dembowski says his council would also have to come back and vote on the issue and a budget for it.