In an effort to combat crimes and catch those who commit them, the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office has received the go-ahead to utilize its own money — amassed by seizing assets from illegal enterprises — toward obtaining another tool that could make the job a little more efficient.
Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton recently noted the need for a device that would complement criminal investigations by quickly and efficiently matching fingerprints found at the scene of crimes.
The sheriff recently spoke with representatives from the Governor’s Crime Commission (GCC) regarding available funding for an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and was informed there was “unencumbered funding” remaining in the GCC budget, which ends Sept. 30.
The proposed system will cost $59,967 and, at its recent meeting, the Sampson Board of Commissioners granted Thornton permission to apply electronically for $21,600 in GCC funding. The sheriff has proposed using $38,367 in federal seized asset funds to cover the remainder of the cost.
“Your approval of this project would be beneficial to the citizens of Sampson,” he stated in a memo to commissioners.
A constant subject of backlogs in recent years, the State Bureau of Investigation lab has improved its testing times, but the sheriff said he wants to ensure his office is assisting in any way it can to shorten that span even further.
“Although the State Crime Lab has reduced their processing time from 18 months to around eight months, we are limited in the amount of evidence that we can submit for a case,” Thornton stated. “We currently have two investigators who are qualified to process the latent evidence however we do not have a system that will allow us to query state and federal databases.”
Currently, the sheriff said, the department relies on the State Crime Lab to process latent prints for verification in the state and federal databases.
The AFIS process would allow for the automatic matching of unknown fingerprints against a database of known and unknown prints. The process is primarily utilized by law enforcement agencies for criminal identification, specifically identifying a person suspected of committing a crime or linking a suspect to unsolved crimes.
“Purchasing the AFIS equipment and software will assist investigators in processing latent evidence in a more expedient manner with direct access to state and federal databases. The addition of this technology will be another tool to improve services to the citizens of Sampson County,” Thornton attested. “After all eight months is an eternity to a crime victim.”
The board gave its unanimous approval as part of the consent agenda at the tail end of its August meeting.
Finance officer David Clack noted that, while there was more seized monies available locally, the roughly $38.000 was the total being proposed in order to make up the remainder needed should the grant be awarded.
“It’s a one-time cost,” Clack stated.
Like the sheriff, Clack touted the benefits of such a system for the Sheriff’s Office.
“Right now, they are limited as to how many items they can submit to the SBI lab for fingerprint identification,” said Clack pointed out. “This will allow them to do more stuff locally and lessen the turnaround time by utilizing this system.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby agreed with the assessment, but said state or federal authorities should foot the bill.
“That would make life a lot easier I’m sure,” said Kirby of the AFIS equipment. “The only thing that bothers me is that here we are using Sampson County assets to do what the State of North Carolina ought to do. These are the kind of things that North Carolina or the federal government ought to be paying for.”
Kirby said he was well aware of the efforts sheriff’s authorities have made in making the kind of busts that net seized asset forfeiture funds. They are funds that could be used in other areas of need, he said.
“Think what you could do if you take the money and use it in other places,” Kirby remarked. “If North Carolina was doing what they ought to be doing, or the federal government, then we wouldn’t have to use it for that purpose. I most certainly want to see the Sheriff’s Department work efficiently — and better — so I have no problem with (granting the request) at all.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.