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Denver Police Turn To Mobile Fingerprint Technology

DENVER (CBS4) – Police officers in Denver will soon have a new tool to help identify suspects who lie about their identity. The City of Denver recently approved $260,000 in the 2016 budget to purchase mobile fingerprinting technology.

DPD's gang unit was equipped with the devices in a pilot program last fall. Officers say the fingerprinting units provided instant answers and cut down on cases of mistaken identity.

Take the case of Bryce Wilhite. When Denver police officers contacted him last year, they say he lied, telling them he was his twin brother, Aaron. But officers used a mobile fingerprint scanner which instantaneously told them the man they questioned was not Aaron Wilhite, but Bryce Wilhite, who had an outstanding warrant. He was immediately arrested.

Denver Police Lieutenant John Pettinger oversaw the pilot program, "We frequently have times when someone that we contact doesn't have an identification card and gives us a name that is not their name."

Police say that's what Mario Chavez did last year when they caught up with him-- they say he too lied about who he was. But a quick digital fingerprint scan revealed who he was and that he had a felony warrant. Chavez went to jail.

(credit: CBS)

Pettinger says the new technology should dramatically slash misidentifications and wrongly jailing people which has been a huge problem in the past.

"It is an ongoing problem that we are looking for technology to hopefully help us out with," he said.

During the pilot program, Denver Police Chief Robert White gave specific orders that the mobile fingerprinting devices should only be used during an arrest, or with documented consent of the person being fingerprinted.

Now that the technology will be available to more than just the 19 members of the gang unit, Denver Police says it is still formulating a policy on when the devices will be used.

Lt. Pettinger said it was undecided if people would be asked to submit a fingerprint during a routine traffic stop, but did say the department is mindful of not being too intrusive with his technology, "They are sensitive to the idea of capturing information when most people think it is not warranted."

The Denver Police Department says it won't retain the fingerprints of people who are not arrested or charged with crimes.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

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