Lincolnshire Police, along with forces in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, are the first in England to have all paper fingerprint records entirely digitised over the next few weeks.
The three forces, which collaborated to form EMSOU-Forensic Services in 2012, will hand 500,000 records dating back to 1999 over to Northgate Public Services, a provider of software and services to the police.
The prints will be scanned by Northgate, catalogued instantly using unique reference numbers and stored in encrypted files on a secure server.
The fingerprint images will be saved as Jpeg 2000 files at 300 dots per inch, an acceptable quality resolution required for submission as evidence in court. The paper copies will then be destroyed.
Prior to 1999, all fingerprint records were sent to Scotland Yard for storage. Since then, forces have held their own records.
However, the combination of the three forces’ files last year has put pressures upon available storage space at the Regional Identification Bureau at Nottinghamshire Police’s Sherwood Lodge HQ, generating a significant annual cost to store them.
Included in those files are 15,000 records which the Home Office has identified for destruction under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (POFA).
The act states that no fingerprints taken from a person who was subsequently not prosecuted for an offence or acquitted of a minor offence can be held by police forces after the end of January 2014.
The staffing cost of manually locating the records to be destroyed under POFA would have also been a substantial amount of money.
Northgate is set to remove the prints on behalf of the forces for a fraction of the manual process costs and on much shorter timescale.
Once Northgate has scanned all the records, its systems can immediately identify the POFA files by their reference numbers and permanently delete the digital record in addition to destroying the paper file.
The new digital records will be linked with other forensic information contained within the Socrates forensic case management solution, provided by Northgate and used by 36 UK forces.
The fingerprint records could also be made available to other police systems, to help police officers investigating crime.
Head of the EMSOU-FS Regional Identification Bureau, Ian Gledhill, said: “We now have the imaging and print quality to satisfy the requirements of the courts, making the need to hold paper records obsolete. This process will effectively make our bureau paperless.
“By working with Northgate, we in the East Midlands expect to be the first in England and Wales to complete the process, which should take no more than a few weeks.
“If this process is replicated nationally, it would be of huge benefit to all investigative police officers, offering a database of millions of instantly accessible fingerprint records from across the country.”