The force says it will allow officers to identify people quicker and spend more time in the community, with a process that used to take several hours now only taking a couple of minutes.
The device scans fingerprints and checks them against the national fingerprint database for matches.
Sergeant Simon Davies, programme manager at South Yorkshire Police, said, "The new devices will save time for the public and the police officer and help increase the number of offenders brought to justice."
The Lantern devices are too large to be used on foot patrol, but the force plans to roll out smaller devices by the end of the year. The MobileID service will provide smaller scanners that will link to officers' Blackberry smartphones.
The National Police Improvement Agency is supplying the technology. The agency said a previous pilot reduced the time of each case by an average of 30 minutes, and helped to identify unconscious or fatal victims at a crime or accident scene.
The project is part of the NPIA's drive to use technology to reduce bureaucracy and costs in the police service. It wants to save £200m a year by 2014 through the information systems improvement strategy and has plans to cut IT jobs.
This story was first published by Computer Weekly