New York City police started using machines to scan the irises of prisoners for the first time Monday, part of a failsafe measure meant to ensure that suspects appearing before judges are not misidentified.

This past winter a New York City man charged with five armed robberies was released by a judge on his own recognizance after posing as a different prisoner who was arrested on a small-time drug offense. Freddie Thompson, 34, pulled the vanishing act from Staten Island Criminal court on March 10.

No one realized that the accused robber was gone until his case was called an hour later. Mr. Thompson was recaptured later that same day, police said.

A review of the mix up determined that the police officer who escorted Mr. Thompson to his court appearance didn’t check his identification. It’s a rare occurrence, but it has happened more than once.

“There have been a couple of cases in recent memory where a defendant was arraigned on a lesser charge and released when he shouldn’t have been,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

To prevent future mishaps, arrestees brought to Central Booking in Manhattan Criminal Court will now encounter a piece of equipment that looks a little like an ophthalmologist’s eye machine.

The iris scanner will be part of the standard booking process, which also includes fingerprints and photographs. Before bringing a prisoner before a judge, police officers will use handheld devices to scan the prisoner’s irises and confirm each identity against the earlier scan.

The $500,000 program will be expanded to Brooklyn on Friday, the Bronx on November 26, Queens on December 3 and Staten Island by December 9, Mr. Browne said.

The iris scans, like fingerprints and the photographs, are kept as a part of the case file, Mr. Browne said.

Source: Sean Gardiner for The Wall Street Journal.

Up Next

Gun rights advocates challenge Washington D.C.’s “Heller II” firearm restrictions.

New York City police started using machines to scan the irises of prisoners for…