In times of tight budgets, spending a half-million dollars on an automated fingerprint identification system might be viewed as excessive.

But Douglas Bodrero, deputy state public safety commissioner, says the system would return six-to-eight times that amount by reducing the losses from criminal activity.Bodrero said the Automated Fingerprinting Identification System is the greatest thing to hit law enforcement since the two-way radio.

AFIS is a computerized fingerprint identification system that would allow law enforcement officials to identify a criminal suspect in 15 minutes instead of days or sometimes weeks.

The system comes with a hefty price tag, however.

Bodrero estimates the system would cost the state about $500,000 a year, but he says that cost could easily be put back into the state through the direct savings in crime reduction.

With the system, Utah law enforcement officers could tap into more than 20 million fingerprints on file and solve crimes in minutes.

"It's a technology that the people of Utah deserve and a technology that would pay for itself," Bodrero said.

A year ago, Utah law enforcement officials explored the possibility of jointly buying or leasing an automated fingerprint system and dividing the cost with other Western states. Officials would also be able to share in the pool of some 20 million fingerprints across state lines.

Along with 12 other Western states, Utah has joined the Western Identification Network, a non-profit organization that has requested the three manufacturers of the computer technology to submit bids by Sept. 1 to buy or lease an operating center in the Western states.

Bodrero said officials have obtained endorsement from criminal justice departments and will approach the Interim Public Safety Committee this month.

Fingerprinting has been used by law enforcement officials for years to establish identification of individuals. Bodrero said fingerprinting is more accurate than an eye-witness in solving crimes.

The new technology can visually scan the fingerprint and make a match or a series of probable matches in minutes.

Bodrero cited the California "Nightstalker" murder case, in which a partial print from a rear-view mirror was used to solve the case in one month with the use of the automated fingerprint identification system. While testing its new system, the state of Washington was able to solve a 7-year-old homicide mystery.

The system will be part of next year's budget request, and Bodrero said if all goes well, Utah should be have the system working by next July.

"It's an exciting technology, and I think it's the future," Bodrero said. "It's something Utah deserves."