King County Regional Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)
King County Courthouse
516 Third Avenue, Room 1A04
Seattle, WA 98104
Customer Support & Training
The Regional AFIS Program promotes public safety and contributes to crime reduction by providing fingerprint identification services and technology to criminal justice agencies throughout King County.
The AFIS Program is funded through a property tax levy with the first levy being approved in 1986. The program serves all 39 cities and unincorporated areas in King County. This regional approach of providing enhanced criminal identification services promotes greater public and officer safety through information sharing, at a minimal cost to the individual taxpayer. The AFIS Advisory Committee provides oversight on the operation and funding of services. Committee membership includes representatives from suburban jurisdictions, City of Seattle, and King County.
- To quickly identify arrested individuals, preventing the wrongful release of those using false names.
- To identify crime scene fingerprints and palmprints that aid in investigations and provide evidence in court.
Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) - searchable database of hundreds of thousands of fingerprints and palmpirnts used to verify identities and help solve crimes.
Livescan - device that electronically captures and transmits fingerprint images to the AFIS database for identification. Devices are located at police departments and jails throughout the county and increase the speed and quality of fingerprints submitted upon arrest.
Mobile Identification - handheld capture devices paired with software that allows officers in the field with probable cause to verify a person's identity within minutes without requiring them to return to a jail or precinct.
The program is funded through a voter-approved property tax levy. It is not part of the King County Sheriff's Office or the Seattle Police Department budgets, as it supports enhanced regional fingerprint identification services to all cities and unincorporated areas in King County. A property tax levy allows AFIS services to be borne regionally at a lower cost instead of by each individual police agency.
Since AFIS is a regional program it provides centralized technology and expert forensic staff through economy of scale. This regional approach:
- Provides a network of over 50 Livescan devices to capture high quality fingerprints and transmit them electronically to AFIS for fast identification
- Allows for more accessible technology with an overall lower cost
- Builds a larger and higher quality database, resulting in more identifications
- Contributes to information sharing between agencies
- Pools staffing to allow for 24/7 coverage and invests in subject matter experts
- Supports task forces, special initiatives, and major crime investigations
The two fundamental principles of fingerprint identification are
permanence and uniqueness. Fingerprints never change and no two fingerprints are the same, even identical twins have different prints. This is because fingerprints are formed in the womb where movements and natural growth randomly create the characteristics.
Permanence - fingerprints are formed before birth, and while they grow larger throughout a person's life, their basic structure remains constant. They can be temporarily obscured when the skin is damaged; but once healed, the ridges grow back in the exact same pattern. Even when a fingerprint is permanently scarred, there is almost always sufficient detail around the scar to allow for a positive identification.
Uniqueness - fingerprints are made up of skin ridges - or friction ridges - that have unique pattern formations. Examiners evaluate and compare the flow of ridges, the relationship between ridge endings and other details to make an identification. Besides being unique in fingerprints, ridge detail is also unique in the palms of hands and soles of feet.