Washington area police officials said yesterday that they have set up a computerized fingerprint identification system that allows them to instantly cross-check fingerprints taken at crime scenes with those in police files around the region.
The new multi-million-dollar network, which began operating at the end of March, was hailed at a news conference as giving police the help they need in tracking criminals across the area's many borders.
Law enforcement officials said it is the first system of its kind in the world that allows computer matching of partial or pieces of prints with complete sets of fingerprints.
"Within minutes, we will be able to make fingerprint comparisons which took months or years to undertake before this system was set up," said Albert C. Eisenberg, an Arlington County Board member and the chairman of the public safety committee of the Metropolitan Council of Governments.
Eisenberg said many crimes are committed by repeat offenders who cross jurisdictional lines.
He said the new computerized network "expands significantly the fingerprint data base, and enables police to search other police departments' files as well as their own."
More than 280,000 fingerprints, plus alias identifications in each jurisdiction, are on file in the Washington area.
Officials said the combined network, in just a month's time, has helped police identify suspects in several cases, including a drug-related shooting death unsolved since 1973, a rape, three armed robberies and two burglaries.
Police departments in Prince George's and Montgomery counties have been linked through a statewide fingerprint identification system since 1979.
Northern Virginia and the District, following COG recommendations in 1982, set up two additional systems designed to be compatible with each other and with the Maryland system, making the subsequent regional link possible.