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Clipped from The Intelligencer
November 19, 2002

Identification Computerized    


WV - Peter Komarinski is an expert in using computers to store and rapidly retrieve fingerprints from databases such as the one the FBI has with 40 million prints.

Such computerized fingerprint databases can more quickly match crime scene fingerprints to fingerprints of possible perpetrators.

Komarinski spoke on Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems - called AFIS - Monday at Wheeling Jesuit University's Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center.

Komarinski's speech was a homecoming, because he graduated from the school in 1970 when it was still Wheeling College.

Although Komarinski works for the state of New York, he said he was appearing at WJU on his own behalf and not that of his employer.

According to Komarinski, fingerprints are one of several biometric forms of identification of people that also includes iris and retinal scanning, facial recognition, speech recognition and DNA analysis. He said each of these forms of identification has advantages, although fingerprints are the most commonly used, at least for criminal investigations.

Identifying people through their fingerprints is made possible by the fact that everyone's fingerprints are unique.

"No two fingerprints have ever been found to be identical," he said.

Pointing to a fingerprint projected on a screen, Komarinski noted that the ridges in the skin of our fingers, which make up our fingerprints, form unique patterns and the ridge endings have unique characteristics. He said ridges end at unique locations in a person's fingerprint pattern and they bifurcate or split off like branches to form two ridges or a circle or island.

Trained experts compare all these unique features to see if a fingerprint from a crime scene matches one in a local, state or FBI fingerprint database.

These databases are kept manually on fingerprint cards or in computer databases. He said that the old "ink and roll" method of taking fingerprints involves inking up the fingers and rolling them onto a fingerprint card to create a physical record of the fingerprints. They must be physically stored in file cabinets. "There were fingerprint files all over the place," he said of how his place of employment used to look.

By contrast, the newer method of fingerprint collection and storage with AFIS involves scanning in fingerprints like photographs are scanned on a computer scanner, and storing them in banks of computer hard drives. "This becomes pretty much a paperless process."

Storing fingerprints on computers not only saves a lot of space, but also makes comparing a fingerprint with a possible match in the database much faster than doing manual comparisons. The computer will look to see if the unique features of a certain fingerprint match those with one in the AFIS database.

However, despite what computers can do to speed up the search and retrieval of similar fingerprints, Komarinski said it still takes trained personnel to process the fingerprint evidence and to determine if two fingerprints are a match.

"It's the latent (fingerprint) examiner that makes the identification, not the computer," he said. "All the computer is going to do is speed up the comparison of those (fingerprint) identification cards."

Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith, who attended the talk, asked," Do you get many challenges in court with digital (finger) prints?"

Komarinski said that he knew of only a few court challenge to a digital (computerized) print, but said "Do I know those challenges were successful? No."

In a question about whether there was a sharing of AFIS information around the country, Komarinski said there isn't a national fingerprint database yet. "AFIS is not even state by state.

"Most of the states have an AFIS system but they're not the same and they're not interconnected," he said. "Eventually I'm sure there will be a way for information to be sent from one area to another."


Copyright 2002 The Intelligencer

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