SEBRING — When deputies found the body of a man on June 9, one of the most important jobs that lay before investigators was to find out his identity.
With a rapid identification device, deputies identified the dead man in minutes.
In years past, that identification might have taken days, said Capt. Tim Lethridge, who is over the criminal investigations division, last week.
Lethridge said before the device was available, the deputy would have had to manually check fingerprints that previously were collected by the sheriff’s office.
Despite deputies being trained to check fingerprints, the matching of the prints remained time-consuming, he said.
Last week, all the deputy had to do was place the deceased man’s finger onto the identification device, which transmitted the information to a database of fingerprints, Lethridge said.
“You can get results in seconds,” he said.
Once the identification is made, the investigators can move to the next step in the investigation — and with the device that’s much quicker, he said.
Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said typically the fingerprints were obtained at the medical examiner’s office before the devices became available.
She said she would like for every deputy to have one, but at a cost of more than $2,000 a device, that’s too costly for now.
Currently, she said, sergeants have them. The sergeants are out on the road and can easily provide one to the deputy at the scene.
Benton said some people may be concerned about the increased ability to take fingerprints, but added the sheriff’s office needs a warrant to do so if the subject has not been arrested.
To obtain the warrant, they must have enough reason to obtain the print, she said.
Lethridge said the device could be used in cases where they don’t believe someone is giving them their real name.
“Contrary to public belief, some people do not tell the truth to law enforcement,” Benton said.
Lethridge said the device also has helped in situations where someone can’t give their name, such as an intoxicated person or someone with a form of dementia.