05/17/17 — Sheriff's office implements eye scanning technology

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Sheriff's office implements eye scanning technology

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on May 17, 2017 9:57 AM

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George Connolly with BI2 Technologies demonstrates the Inmate Recognition and Identification System at the Carey A. Winders Detention Center Tuesday.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday announced the implementation of new IRIS scanner technology at Wayne County's detention facilities.

IRIS, which stands for Inmate Recognition Identification System, scans both eyes of anyone being processed into the either of Wayne County's detention facilities after they have been charged with a crime.

Officials at a press conference touted the technology as being 12 times more accurate than fingerprinting someone being put into jail for a crime, saying there are more than 500 points to be identified in an IRIS eye scan compared to about 40 on a fingerprint.

"Fingerprints can be worn down because of occupation, worn down because of people working on farms, people working at janitorial type things," said John Leonard, senior vice president of global business development of the company that created the technology. "It is an external organ, your fingerprints."

The person's eyes are scanned both when they arrive at the jail, and when they leave from the jail to ensure authorities are releasing the right person.

"We have a situation here in Wayne County that we have two brothers that look alike," Pierce said. "They're twins, they have similar names, and we have to be very careful if we encounter them."

Pierce could not say at the press conference exactly how many times the wrong person might have been released from jail during the past decade or more.

Leonard said there is no way to fool the system, as it scans accurately even for people wearing contacts and glasses.

Officials said the technology was installed at the detention facilities on Easter weekend this year.

The scans are kept on a third-party server hosted by the company who makes the technology, BI2 Technologies.

The data belongs to the individual agency that gathers it, Leonard said, but it will be hosted on the company's private server.

"The data remains the property of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, it will always be their property," Leonard said. "We do provide the service of hosting that data at an undisclosed location."

Capt. Robert Thaxton, administrator of the Wayne County Detention Center, said people's IRIS scans will remain in the system permanently, unless authorities receive a court order to expunge the scan from their database.

Inmates who are already in the jail will all be IRIS scanned into the database soon.

Thaxton said authorities have not had anybody in the detention facilities have an issue with their eyes being scanned.

New Hanover and Brunswick Counties also use the technology. Mecklenburg County had the technology, but got rid of it.

"Mecklenburg had it a number of years back and don't keep the system today," Leonard said. "They had a change of leadership."

Pierce said the agency is looking into getting mobile IRIS scanners for deputies.

"We are looking into that and, hopefully, as the funds become available it will be at the patrol officer level for identification," Pierce said.

The IRIS scan takes approximately 20 seconds total, from scanning the person's irises to storing the information permanently.

There are about 200 law enforcement agencies around the nation that also use the technology.

The technology was paid for by a $20,000 grant received by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, and provided enough funding to install it at both the Wayne County Jail and the Carey A. Winders Detention Center.