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Back to Archives | Back to May 2010 Contents 

Technology Talk

The Western Identification Network: A Multi-State AFIS

By Chelsea S. Keefer, Document Specialist, Nlets, Phoenix, Arizona

he Western Identification Network (WIN) is working with the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets), also known as the International Justice and Public Safety Network, to provide a multistate Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). AFIS comprises a high-speed computer system that digitizes, stores, and compares fingerprint data and images. Fingerprints entered into AFIS are searched against millions of prints on file and are identified by experts from resulting candidate lists. WIN seeks to help states identify individuals by providing a network where states can search and share fingerprints over a secure, reliable connection. With a like-minded mission and similar network in place, Nlets plays a major role in managing and supporting the WIN network.

About WIN

WIN was formed in May 1988 to facilitate creation of the first multistate AFIS. This took place approximately 10 years prior to going live. In the mid-1980s, the California Department of Justice had successfully interfaced the state with local California agency AFIS systems. Building on California’s experience, WIN took the unprecedented step of being the first entity to electronically share fingerprint data across state lines. WIN supports its members via national AFIS standards promulgated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS), and supports member submissions to the FBI through its CJIS wide-area network (WAN) connection.

WIN is a consortium of state and local law enforcement agencies that have implemented a shared network and AFIS processing service bureau to provide the ability to search the criminal and civil fingerprint records of these member agencies. Currently, eight states—Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—use the WIN AFIS service bureau in Rancho Cordova, California. The service bureau contains approximately 6 million 10-print records and a growing number of palm prints and other record types. Interfaces are maintained with California and its local agency systems as well as Las Vegas Metro, Nevada, and King County/Seattle, Washington, that, in total, provide members access to 26 million searchable fingerprint records.

How It Works

Consider this: A man in Oregon is arrested for domestic violence. He is fingerprinted at the local county jail. Using a Live Scan terminal, the man’s fingerprints are sent to the main WIN system at Oregon State Police, which automatically enters them into AFIS. This means that within 30 minutes of processing the subject, his fingerprints are searchable in AFIS, and a computerized criminal history record of the arrest is established.

The man posts bail and immediately heads to a gun store. Any federally licensed dealer selling firearms in Oregon must perform a criminal history check over the phone and must also capture the buyer’s thumbprints on the necessary paperwork. In this case, because the domestic violence arrest was already established on the man’s criminal history, the gun sale was denied. One can only imagine the violence that was prevented because of information available via WIN.

Mike Heintzman, Operations Manager for the Identification Services Section of the Oregon State Police, believes the investigative value of searchable fingerprints is immeasurable. “Whether it’s after a routine arrest or as part of a latent print search during a criminal investigation, being able to search a large portion of the western states is extremely helpful. Thanks to the WIN network and Nlets support, Oregon and the other WIN states, can safely and easily share fingerprints.”1 Steve Correll, Executive Director for Nlets, has a like-minded opinion of the significance of WIN. “I’ve worked in law enforcement, and now, as part of Nlets, I work for law enforcement, to make sure our network can provide the right information to the right person at the right time. What WIN offers is essential access to highly important information, which is exactly what Nlets aims to provide to the states.”

Future Growth
AFISAutomated Fingerprint Identification System
CJISCriminal Justice Information Services Division
FBIFederal Bureau of Investigation
IBISIntegrated Biometric Identification System
III SystemInterstate Identification Index System
NISTNational Institute of Standards and Technology
NletsNational Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (The International Justice and Public Safety Network)
WANwide-area network
WINWestern Identification Network

In a world of rapidly expanding technology, the distance between officers on the street and the information they need is ever increasing. Said Ken Bischoff, CEO of WIN, “As WIN and Nlets expand their capabilities, I think there will be limitless opportunities to broaden the reach of AFIS, as well as the method through which law enforcement can access it.”2 The potential for states to use mobile fingerprint devices and a more robust network brings with it the promise of officers armed with better data, which, in turn, means safer communities.

The Portland Police Forensic Evidence Division is currently using its Interstate Identification Index System (III System) and WIN to take fingerprint identification to the streets. Using handheld, portable scanning units, officers who have already legally detained a suspect for a criminal act can take fingerprints in the field for quick identification via AFIS. Chris Wormdahl, Portland Police technology coordinator, is amazed at how times have changed. “Suspect identification is happening faster and faster—we’re not rolling ink anymore,” he said. “Organizations like WIN and the connections they provide are allowing us to fully utilize technology such as these scanning units to arm officers with the information they need.”3 These devices, coupled with WIN’s services, are leading the way in the future of law enforcement.

Both WIN and Nlets have the same mission: to assist law enforcement agencies with their information needs. Terry O’Connell, director of Oregon’s Law Enforcement Data System, said, “Consortiums such as WIN and Nlets are excellent examples of how states can pool resources to provide a common criminal justice information solution. The ultimate end user—the cop on the street—benefits tremendously from these behind-the-scenes partnerships.”4

For more information about WIN, contact Ken Bischoff, WIN Chief Executive Officer, at 916-369-3946, extension 227,
or visit

For more information about Nlets, contact Kurt Anzelmo, Nlets Director of Operations, at 623-308-3529,
or visit■


1Mike Heintzman, spoken personal communication, February 24, 2010.
2Ken Bischoff, e-mail to the author, February 24, 2010.
3Chris Wormdahl, spoken personal communication, February 26, 2010.
4Terry O’Connell, spoken personal communication, February 25, 2010.

Please cite as:

Chelsea S. Keefer, "Technology Talk: The Western Identification Network: A Multi-State AFIS," The Police Chief 77 (May 2010): 74, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. 77, no. 5, May 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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