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Digital Perestroika

With the FBI’s identification division showing signs of terminal obsolescence, an outcry arose among those who most rely on it: the cops. The conduit for their dissatisfaction was the FBI’s NCIC Advisory Policy Board, which represents police and prosecutors nationwide. The board tendered a plan in 1989, drafted by Joseph Bonino, the Los Angeles police department’s identification-division commander, that set the bureau on its current path.

The Policy Board report urged a fresh start; a proposed update of the existing hybrid system would throw good money after bad. Since the states had already proven that AFIS works, the FBI should go straight to it without a superfluous trial. Most important, it should dump the Henry classifications, which the bureau had honed into such an exquisite old-tech tool; with computing power now available to sort prints according to general features and extract and search minutiae directly, Henry’s day had passed.

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