COPS: I See You: Iris Innovation

Advances in technology have revolutionized the U.S. law enforcement profession and one of the latest innovations being leveraged by local, state, and tribal law enforcement is the Iris Biometric Identification System. Like fingerprints, iris recognition uses pattern recognition techniques to identify individuals through high-resolution images taken of the eye’s iris. “Iris recognition has proven to be significantly more accurate than any other visible biometric on the human body,” said Sean Mullin, President and CEO of Biometric Intelligence and Information (BI2) Technologies.

Over the past two years, BI2 has worked in partnership with the National Sheriffs' Association to implement a COPS grant to bring iris technology to hundreds of sheriff’s offices, police departments, and correctional facilities in 47 states. Work is currently underway to bring the technology to agencies in the remaining three states—Alaska, Hawaii, and Delaware. The goal is to create a national data sharing repository based on iris biometric technology, so state, county, and local law enforcement can quickly and accurately share data and positively identify individuals already in custody.

Unlike DNA identification and other forms of evidence collection, iris technology is non-intrusive and more hygienic. Officers need only be equipped with a special digital camera and don’t need to worry about wearing rubber gloves to protect themselves from disease or other hygienic concerns because there’s no need to touch anyone. It’s all done with a click of a specially equipped digital camera, keeping interaction with suspects at a minimum.

Biometrics and COPS

In July, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), hosted a COPS-sponsored workshop entitled “Law Enforcement and Military Biometrics,” held in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Approximately 100 local, state, and federal law enforcement representatives and academics gathered to discuss and share information related to biometrics, and in particular, facial recognition.

The PCSO, through COPS technology funding, has partnered with the MacDill Air Force Base to develop and test robust conventional and non-conventional facial recognition technologies such as thermal recognition, mobile identification systems, and the development of the largest consolidated facial recognition repository available to law enforcement and correction officers in the country. This initiative is a part of a joint military/law enforcement counterterrorism test-bed that promotes promising practices across both disciplines.

In order to strengthen biometrics and identity management capabilities, the PCSO will continue to work with local, state, and federal law enforcement and military agencies to share lessons learned. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact David Anderson, project administrator, at

-Linda Gist
Supervisory Senior Policy Analyst
The COPS Office

Iris technology, which leverages legacy systems, is primarily being deployed at correction facilities. In May 2010, there were nearly 35 million cross matches conducted against a database of approximately 400,000 iris images. It is used to not only prevent false release of inmates, but to help identify suspects, gang members, and sex offenders in a matter of seconds during the intake and booking process. Many people have fingerprints on file, but iris scans are limited to those in custody. It has been particularly helpful in identifying sex offenders, a fairly transient population. Through iris technology sex offenders can, and have, been easily identified in other jurisdictions.

Iris technology is easily integrated with existing jail and records management systems, AFIS, and sex offender tracking systems. BI2 has been able to equip law enforcement agencies, through the COPS grant, with approximately $10,000 per agency which includes iris algorithm software, application software, computers, iris cameras, and data base access. Agencies can easily use and integrate iris technology because it leverages existing legacy systems and industry standards, and is web-based. “The COPS Office has been critical in making this happen,” said Mullin.

In addition to the ease of the system, a mobile version—Mobile Offender Recognition System (MORIS™)—is now available, which can capture iris, facial, and fingerprint images using an encrypted and secure platform. It is the same size as a smart phone and is no different than taking a photo with your iPhone. The only difference is the lens. “Most officers have a cell phone,” said Mullin, “and every single officer can have this capability.” It runs on a 3G system so where ever there is cell phone service, MORIS™ can be used.

In addition to positively identifying offenders, iris technology is also being used to find missing children through “The Child Project,” a secure, web-based, network and registry accessible to authorized users at sheriff’s offices and social services agencies. A similar system is in place for seniors through the Senior Safety Net. Every year there are 1.8 million Alzheimer patients that wander from their homes. Senior Safety Net serves as another tool law enforcement can use to reunite missing Alzheimer’s patients with their families. Not only is iris technology being embraced by the National Sheriffs' Association, but it has also received an endorsement from the American Optometric Association.

-Amy Schapiro
Senior Social Science Analyst
The COPS Office