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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New fingerprint technology urged

When Stephanie Hartnett saw the man who had followed her 13-year-old daughter to her Roslindale home, she knew he was not the teenager he claimed to be in text messages and e-mails. But when Boston police responded to her call, it took them more than an hour to determine he was a level-three sex offender from Texas.

Now, Hartnett is trying to persuade city officials to purchase portable fingerprint scanners for police cruisers so police can quickly determine when a suspect is potentially dangerous. She will testify at a City Hall hearing today at the request of Councilor Rob Consalvo, who has proposed the purchases.

"If we had had the fingerprint scanner, in four minutes we would have known who he was," said Hartnett, a 38-year-old former Brockton paramedic.

Boston police plan to have a representative at today's hearing of the City Council public safety committee. Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said officials were interested in considering the technology, but deploying it might require upgrading the department's wireless connections.

Hartnett said that last year her daughter met a man who claimed to be 17 on "what was supposedly a kid-friendly site."

In late September, the man boarded a bus in Austin and headed to Boston, where he waited for Hartnett's daughter at Hyde Park's Cleary Square. Hartnett said her daughter decided to continue home on the bus with the man following her, because she knew both her mother and father would be there.

From there, Hartnett described a scene similar to Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series, with her playing the role of NBC's Chris Hansen.

She called 911, and Boston police sent several cruisers to her home. After about two hours in which Hartnett said the man gave police multiple false names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers, they were able to identify him as 28-year-old Aaron Johnston.  [Mark Godsey]

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