A criminal’s fingerprints were just captured from the scene of the crime that occurred at a local grocery store, and the clock has started for law enforcement to find them.

Key evidence (such as fingerprints) can be pulled from the scene and be matched to existing samples in a biometric database, like an Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS). While law enforcement agencies may have their own ABIS, many decide to share with outside agencies to help find the identity of a criminal.

Let’s look at what it means to share an ABIS, the main benefits and the main drawback. This criterion can help you decide whether sharing is right for your agency.

What does it mean to share an ABIS?

Law enforcement agencies are known to share an ABIS in one of two ways: by sharing ABIS functionality amongst multiple ABIS owners, or by being part of a regional database.

If your agency shares functionality of an ABIS, that means that it can be shared amongst multiple ABIS owners. When an ABIS is shared this way, they can search each other’s database to help solve crime.

For example, Town A and Town B share a border. Both towns have their own separate systems to own and control their respective data. If law enforcement in Town A arrests someone and that person is not already in the town’s system, the suspects prints can be searched against a border agency (Town B) that also has an ABIS. In this instance, the agency can potentially get an identification on that criminal with the help of another jurisdiction, Town B.

The second way that an agency can share an ABIS is through a regional database. Several states achieve this by pooling their funds to buy one big ABIS. This ABIS is available for everyone to use, and the agencies involved agree with what they will do with their data.

Regardless of how you go about it, there are pros and cons to sharing an ABIS.

Benefits of sharing an ABIS

There are three main benefits to sharing an ABIS, and they are: geographical location, data ownership, and speed.

Geographical location

Most of the time criminals commit crime in their local area. They will likely commit a crime in a built-up area with many surrounding towns. The benefit of sharing an ABIS is that you have access to surrounding towns’ systems. So even if you have never arrested the person before, if they were suspected of a prior crime locally, you may find them in a system. Which is beneficial because criminals typically do not go too far from home, though they will cross borders into neighboring towns.

Access to more data

When sharing an ABIS, you can match an individual’s biometrics (fingerprints) to a large pool of an enrolled criminal’s biometric data. In other words, this means that there are more potential candidates to match to resulting on the greater probability of a match.

For example, if Town A has 20K contacts in their ABIS, Town B has 20K contacts, and Town C has 20K contacts. Once their systems databases (of 20K each) are shared amongst those three towns they will be able to access the data of 60K criminals. They will be able to search all 60K of biometric data with the higher possibility of catching a criminal. If they just used their own, the possibility of a match would not be as high than with sharing a system.


This is the biggest benefit of sharing an ABIS. An ABIS can help catch criminals faster because of the quantity of enrolled criminals in the databases involved.

For example, when crimes are committed, investigations need to be done fast, as the criminal could leave town. A town just got hit with a burglar, and he left his prints at the crime scene. Law enforcement picked them up, enrolled it into the system and searched. There was no match within their system. So, with quick thinking, they decided to send out the fingerprints to Town B. Town B searched it against thousands of their records and saw that the suspect had a past criminal record.

Town A now has the proper identity of the suspect and are now able to proceed with an arrest. Results from an ABIS database only takes a few minutes. This quick action of the system could stop the suspect from going far (out of the country) or to cause more trouble.

It is not all positive though. There can be a drawback to sharing an ABIS. Let’s consider:

Drawbacks of sharing an ABIS

The main drawback of sharing an ABIS is the potential impact of the quantity of workstations that share an ABIS system. The system could run slow because of all the use.

When law enforcement deploys an ABIS, it is based on specifications that the agency needs. For example, they have an ABIS that is built for 3 workstations and can handle up to 200K records. If the system is shared with 5 workstations (3 workstations for Town A, and 2 workstations for surrounding jurisdictions), the performance may be affected.

The next drawback of sharing an ABIS is the logistical aspect of pooling money together to share systems. This is a drawback because concerns may arise on the logistical side of things. Agencies must decide on different guidelines, like who signs the main contract (terms, how much each will each agree to pay), and if agencies work well together. It may not be a good decision if these logistical factors are not ironed out.

The likelihood of catching criminals increases with an ABIS

Law enforcement agencies share ABIS systems, and when one is used there is a higher possibility of catching criminals. When deciding on whether to share an ABIS, the criteria above is a good starting point. This includes geographical location, the access to more data, and speed. Drawbacks of sharing an ABIS should also be taken into consideration when trying to weigh your options. The best way to figure this out is to know what is right for your agency and decide based on your specific needs.

If you want to learn more about the AwareABIS family, including AFIX which allows for cross-jurisdiction search, contact us or visit our webpage.

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