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Monday, September 3, 2001

Welcome to the fifth "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets you every Monday morning. The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.

Last week we passed a milestone... There are now over 100 of you receiving The Weekly Detail!! Congratulations on being a great group of people; you are the reason I stay up late. :) And now the moment you have all been waiting for... (excitement and tension builds...) Here comes this month's...

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

IT'S FINALLY HERE!!!

The first bookstore exclusively for latent print examiners and/or fingerprint books is located here, at CLPEX!  Check it out!

In celebration of this occasion, I have listed, on Ebay, a first edition copy of THE FIRST fingerprint book ever written... AND I STARTED THE AUCTION AT ONE PENNY!   Check out Sir Francis Galton's Finger Prints on Ebay, and see what it's up to, and who has bid!  The auction ends next Sunday evening.

I have decided to continue this craziness, and to list an Ebay item on the first Monday of every month.  They may not always be as awesome as a first edition of the 1892 classic, but nonetheless it will be fun.  "CLPEX Bid-Now" items may include everything from antique fingerprint kits to one-of-a-kind memorabilia, from rare books to fingerprint supplies.  If you are interested in sponsoring a CLPEX Bid-Now item, let me know.  I'm thinking of the person who has an awesome item they know others might enjoy more than them.  Or a fingerprint supply company willing to donate some supplies; for advertising purposes.  Drop me a note; we'll talk.

Our feature in this week's Detail is an expansion on the concept of objectivity, in the form of the first original article on CLPEX.com.  Wes Sossomon brings us part one of his article this week:

The Team? (Part I)

Recent discussions and debate regarding the science of friction ridge skin identification have brought forth a number of issues that are being addressed both by practitioners of the discipline and those who apparently feel qualified to cast doubt upon it even though they have no training or experience in conducting such examinations.

It has been baldly alleged by some that there exists a vast conspiracy within the ranks of friction ridge skin identification specialists to cloak the discipline itself, its practitioners, and accusations of erroneous identifications in dark secrecy. The implication, in fact the outright accusation, that latent print examiners routinely protect others who exhibit incompetent and/or unethical practices in order to preserve the "sanctity" of the discipline is ridiculous. There is ample documentation of evidence to the contrary; evidence that is clearly available to anyone for review. In some cases, these spurious accusations are directed toward the heart of our science in an attempt to debunk our practices and, perhaps more subtly, create controversy to sell a few more books. However, perhaps even more disturbing is the view by some that the majority of experts adhere to some sort of "team" mentality, whereby only the purposes of law enforcement are reported and testified to on a routine basis. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of these allegations is the unfounded concern of the public in general, who is left pondering whether a century of old science is nothing more than a fairy tale used whenever "Big Brother" felt the need to rid society of an unsuspecting, but nonetheless "scum bag." However, our science is not without hope.

Certain latent print examiners have proven their collective worth by stepping forward to rebut and thoroughly destroy any appearance of legitimacy of these accusations. This has been accomplished by means of calm, methodical explanation of the workings of the discipline by practitioners who are qualified and exhibit the highest professional ethics. These examiners have been at the forefront of dispelling the perpetuated myth of the "secret society" among the ranks of our discipline. The McKie and Asbury cases, in both of which latent print examiners rebutted the erroneous identifications of other latent print examiners, are two glaring examples which dispel the myth of the conspiratorial "secret society." There are many other less infamous or celebrated cases in which qualified, competent latent print examiners have disclosed erroneous identifications and/or fabricated latent print evidence. Many of these cases are posted for public review. However, comments such as those in a recent BBC television program cannot go unnoticed:

SHELLEY JOFRE: Danny McNamee was freed on appeal in 1997 after serving 11 years behind bars .... Andrew Chiory spent two months on remand accused of burgling Miriam Stoppard’s house. He was freed when it was found a print had been misidentified as his. Neville Leo also served time on remand accused of rape because of a misidentified print .... The case of the Hyde Park bomber illustrated for the first time just how widely fingerprint experts can vary in their opinion .... the 14 experts who testified were sharply divided between those who said it was his print and those who said it wasn’t.

WERTHEIM: This is the sweets tin that was found in David Asbury’s apartment, the so-called 16 points that were found by the SCRO in this are pure fiction.

JOFRE: It was the same four experts who’d misidentified Shirley McKie’s print.

MICHAEL MANSFIELD: I think the idea that a department, whether it’s fingerprints or anything else, is going to provide within itself internally independent verification is a joke. They’re all working as a team and they’re all working towards one objective, and on the whole most of them know what it is that is being required of them by the police.

This last statement pretty much sums up the problem. The public is being fed the notion that latent print examiners who are employed by government agencies, particularly law enforcement, are inherently incapable of conducting objective examinations and presenting unbiased testimony. The theme here is that such examiners possess a proprietary interest in assuring the success of "the prosecution."

Without reciting the specific historical origins and subsequent evolution of early fingerprint bureaus to the modern, high-tech laboratories that we are fortunate to have today, friction ridge skin identification relevant to latent marks at scenes of crime and associated physical evidence, has traditionally fell within the purview and responsibility of law enforcement or some similar executive agency. This seems logical given that such government agencies are primarily responsible for the investigation of criminal acts and a routine part of the investigative process involves the detection, recognition, recovery, and examination of physical evidence. Of course, the critical value of physical evidence is to demonstrate a link between people and places as they interact relevant to any given occurrence. Of all such evidence, none is more precise or as compelling as friction skin prints.

To deny that there are instances in which prosecutors expect government forensic examiners to "join the team" is foolish. The many pressures associated with arrests and convictions, especially in cases involving particularly heinous crimes, are sometimes overwhelming. And it must also be recognized that there are prosecutors who attempt to influence or manipulate an examiner’s conclusions and his or her testimony regarding those conclusions in favor of the prosecution’s position. Sadly, this is the reality of an adversarial system. Oh, don’t forget that this is a two-way street; cases abound in which "hired-gun" defense "experts" have given some of the most outrageous testimony in the history of the universe. Isn’t it strange how these are accepted without question by the very same ones who are lambasting us?

Unethical, or in some cases downright criminal practices, are not confined to any one particular profession. However, it is unfair and illogical to classify an entire profession in this way. More appropriately, individual latent print examiners must be held accountable for their own actions or omissions. Those who sacrifice ethics and professional standards for "the team" should be exposed for what they are, and dealt with accordingly. The rest of us have a continuing affirmative duty to see that this is done, else our discipline shall continue to endure the skepticism that is now upon us.

Next week we will continue with part two of Wes's article.  Stay tuned!

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UPDATES ON THE SITE THIS WEEK:
ONLINE BOOKSTORE!
Updated the format on the site; no more button bar on the left!  This makes for easier surfing.
Added a new discussion on the board regarding OBJECTIVITY and latent print examiners.  Please feel free to comment on this week's Detail.
Deleted the "Store" and "Library" in exchange for "Books" and "Articles."  If T-shirts or other memorabilia are added, I will create another section later.
I know the "Articles" section is a bit slim still... I have been concentrating on the books, and now I will have a chance to add more links to great articles.  Look for these over the next few weeks!

Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!

 

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