Idaho jail to get iris recognition to scan fugitives' eyes
Since implementing the system on Aug. 2, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office has taken digital photos of 1,588 inmates' irises
By Ruth Brown
The Idaho Statesman
CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — No amount of reconstructive surgery or tattooing can change the irises a person is born with — making the eye one of the most identifiable human characteristics for law enforcement.
But irises can be tracked only if law enforcement has a program to photograph them.
And now, Canyon County will be able to do just that.
The Canyon County jail is the first in Idaho to implement an iris biometric identification recognition system when booking inmates into custody, a process that is more accurate and faster than fingerprinting, the sheriff announced Thursday.
Since implementing the system on Aug. 2, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office has taken digital photos of 1,588 people’s irises when booking inmates into the Dale G. Haile Detention Center in Caldwell. The photos of the inmates’ eyes are taken as they are booked, but the inmate is still fingerprinted and photographed as well.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said the program, which cost about $10,000, was paid for through a grant the jail receives from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.
Donahue explained that the human eye’s iris is unique and, unlike a fingerprint, cannot be altered. Some criminals purposefully damage or scar their fingerprints to avoid detection by law enforcement, he said. But even if a person has had eye surgeries, such as lasik or cataract surgeries, or has sustained an eye injury, irises are still uniquely detectable.
The iris has distinct characteristics that are formed when a fetus is developing before birth, so it is unique even when compared with a person’s DNA sample. Identical twins, for instance, would share the same DNA profile, but they would not have the same iris characteristics.
“It’s really important that we understand who is coming into our system and also who is leaving,” Donahue said. “So not only is the person who’s coming into jail scanned through the iris identification system, but also when they are leaving. The last thing we want to do is make a mistake in an identity of someone who is leaving jail.”
John Leonard, senior vice president for BI2 Technologies, the company that created the Inmate Identification and Recognition System, or IRIS, attended a press conference Thursday to demonstrate how the system works. He explained that the inmates’ irises will be photographed from about 18 inches away, so it is a noninvasive process that takes less than 10 seconds to upload.
Leonard stressed that one reason the system is so accurate is because the photo must be taken from 18 inches away, meaning basic security footage would not be enough to identify someone.
He touts that the iris scans are about 12 times more accurate at identifying a person than a fingerprint.
Nationwide, 47 states use IRIS at 250 law enforcement agencies, Leonard said. Every state except Hawaii, Alaska and Delaware has at least one agency using the system, and the information is kept in a major database. About 1.4 million people’s irises are in the database, which is not open to the public. Only certified law enforcement has access.
“We may not find someone in the state of Idaho who is on the run that we can’t identify, but what if someone in the state of Idaho comes through our doors ... and we’re able to identify this long sought-after suspect who has committed heinous crimes either in our state or in other states or in a multitude of states?” Donahue said. “That’s really the biggest selling point for me” in the iris scan.