Local sheriff's office finding more criminals through advances in fingerprint technology

AFIS tech enhances images, finds more hits

PINELLAS Co., Fla. — Busted by fingerprint technology, one robber identified twice by new advancements. 

We showed you surveillance video back in July of an armed masked man attempting to rob a St. Pete 7-11.  A tech advancement helped put him behind bars.

A man in a mask threatens a clerk with a knife.

“He’s definitely got nerve," said franchise owner Anthony Gates.

It happened in Gate's 7-11 on Park Street North in St. Pete. The would-be robber wasn’t able to take anything and despite wearing gloves, he left behind prints on the bicycle he abandoned.

“He must feel pretty stupid. You gotta be pretty stupid to try and rob a 7-11 in the first place," said Gates.

St. Pete Police identified the prints to Travis Watson — but their guy was already sitting in jail for another crime.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says a month before walking into the 7-11 he entered the hotel room of two sleeping women at Madeira Beach and stole their purses. He ended up using their credit cards to make fraudulent purchases. But he left his prints outside the hotel window. 

Two crime scenes connected to Watson by fingerprint analysis.

Three years ago a smudged print likely wouldn’t be able to be identified via software but with the recent progress, it’s a lot easier for fingerprint examiners. It’s called automated fingerprint identification system or AFIS. It's a million dollar technology that continues to make strides.

“It’s very exciting technology," said Mara Iocolano, the biometric records manager for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "Just like any other technology, especially with computers, it’s gone through a lot of changes and it’s rapidly changing every year.”

The AFIS division of PCSO is identifying more prints than ever before. In fact, comparing May of 2015 to May of 2018, these examiners have doubled the number of matches.

“Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. I hope the criminals take note," said Gates.

The rapidly evolving software is getting better at enhancing images and giving examiners more potential hits.

“It’s a great feeling to be a part of the process to bring closure to cases and to bring that closure to victims," said Iocolano.

Progress especially useful in cold cases like that of Russell Lee Rogers who PCSO arrested in June for a sexual battery and kidnapping case from more than 30 years ago.

“Definitely a bad time to be a criminal," said Gates.

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