Wake County computer technology links suspects to thousands of crimes

Ed Crump Image
ByEd Crump via WTVD logo
Friday, July 13, 2018

WAKE COUNTY, NC (WTVD) -- We all know how much technology has advanced in our everyday lives, and in many ways, improved our lives.

However, few of us give thought to how it has advanced in solving crimes.

These days surveillance video and cell phone information provide a ton of evidence for investigators.

One of the biggest advances, according to the director of Wake County's Crime Scene Investigation Unit, is a computer program for fingerprints.

"We've been able to contribute significantly to law enforcement solving cases," Sam Pennica the Director of the City-County Bureau of Identification or CCBI told ABC11.

Pennica, whose lengthy law enforcement career started with the FBI, has credited a computer program called Spex Forensics for his agency's massive increase in fingerprint matches in the past decade.

"There's no way that we could link all these cases together or sit there and compare thousands, hundreds of thousands of cases over the years. It's impossible for it to be done by a human. It has to be done with technology," Pennica said.

Now, every suspect's prints are placed in the program, which will immediately begin searching the database for hundreds of thousands of crime scene prints.

Using the state's fingerprint matching program CCBI connected just under 250 suspect prints to crime scene prints in 2006.

The next year, after purchasing the Spex Forensics program, the match rate more than doubled to over 250.

And last year the CCBI got more than 1,600 matches.

Along the way, Pennica has collected many anecdotes about matches.

"We had one particular juvenile who was 13 years old who was arrested for a violent crime and he was ordered by the court to be fingerprinted and for the prints to be placed into the database for searching purposes only. And they then hit to 65 other cases," he recounted.

Recently, a man who arrested for one crime was connected to prints from 35 other crime scenes.

And then there's the story of the 16-year-old whose prints were connected by the computer program to a crime from years earlier.

"The individual would have been nine years old at the time he committed the crime which was a commercial burglary," Pennica noted.

Pennica said his agents are now working to enter older prints into the system.

"We put some data, palm print data from arrest cards dating back to the 1970s, and when we did that we ran some old cases and we did make some identifications. So we're using new technology and applying it to the old evidence," he said.

The program cost CCBI roughly $250,000.

They estimated that the technology has helped connect 33,000 suspects to crimes since it was implemented.

That comes out to a cost of just over $7.50 per crime connection - a cost which detectives probably consider a true bargain.