T H E
T A I L
Monday, October 8, 2001
Welcome to the tenth "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.
Let's keep the overseas troops and our citizens in our thoughts and prayers this week, as it has the potential to become a very scary time for everyone.
HELP A FELLOW PROFESSIONAL! (and satisfy your
Would you be willing to write a letter for me explaining to the XXXXX Police Department that most (I'm not sure if that is true) agencies have now realized that civilians are in fact able to do latent prints. I'm trying to explain to them that I am not trying to replace them but instead integrate civilians into the lab. XXXXXX allows only sworn personnel to work in the Latent Print section of the crime lab. My agency has just hit the 70's in their way of thinking and in the equipment they provide us. I'm desperately trying to convince them that you DO NOT Have to carry a gun and wear a badge to compare latent prints. Recently one of the Detectives retired and there was an opening. I was the only civilian to put in a letter requesting an interview. I know for a fact that I had more training and education in latent prints than any of the officers that applied. The officer they finally hired decided he would rather be in crime scenes so that still leaves the latent print section short staffed. I'm desperate and don't know what else to do. I've met with (Cheese), (Bigger Cheese), and even the (Head Cheese) and I am getting nowhere. Let me know if you can help me, please.
I have set up a Discussion on the board for those wishing to comment on the subject of civilian / sworn latent print examiners. Perhaps these comments could be utilized by our colleague or others who find themselves is in this situation.
We are currently in the middle of a series of Details regarding whether or not the principles and methodologies of friction ridge skin analysis constitute scientific practice. As we saw last week, friction ridge skin is unique because biology never produces two identical items; on any level. Visit the CLPEX.com archives page for the entire article.
This week we are addressing whether or not fingerprint examination is subjective and unverifiable with no standards to prevent error. These elements can be addressed by realizing what it is we are actually doing when we compare prints.
The ACE-V methodology defines exactly that. It breaks down into phases what every latent print examiner actually does when comparing two prints, whether or not he/she defines it using these exact words. By understanding the differences between each of these phases, Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation and Verification, a latent print examiner can consciously realize that he/she follows a systematic and objective methodology.
ANALYSIS: Ashbaugh defines the analysis phase of the identification process as an "intelligence gathering process, where one learns as much about the latent print as possible." By it's very definition, this phase is limited to an observation to the detail (or sometimes the utter LACK of detail) in the latent print. Sometimes a thorough analysis of a latent print, which was thought to contain sufficient detail for comparison purposes, reveals certain things which render it unsuitable. The analysis of some latent prints takes no longer than a few moments. Other analyses may take hours. For most latent prints, factors to be considered during the analysis phase include substrate (surface) distortion, matrix (sweat, blood, etc...) distortion, pressure distortion, clarity, ridge path configuration, and anatomical features. (Ashbaugh, Qualitative-Quantitative Friction Ridge Skin Analysis) The Analysis phase is, by its very nature, completely objective.
COMPARISON: Ashbaugh also explains that the comparison process is completely objective, involving analyzing the unclear print first, and comparing that mental image to the clear image. This should be conducted in such a way as to prevent mindset to insure that someone else conducting the examination would see the same things within the print that you are seeing and comparing. During the comparison, the unit relationship and/or relative position details are mentally or physically measured. This is done sequentially, spatially, and configuratively. (is that a word?) Comparison is also done on three levels of detail: First - Ridge flow, Second - Ridge path, and Third, Ridge shape.
EVALUATION: During the evaluation phase of the identification methodology, the examiner answers the question, "Is there sufficient uniqueness in agreement in both prints in order to individualize." The quality and quantity of detail within each image is taken into account as this philosophy of identification is addressed. There are three possibilities that result from an evaluation: (1) Elimination (2) Individualization (3) Insufficient uniqueness to individualize. Since the unknown print was left by one and only one source, these are the only three possible conclusions. Portions of the evaluation process involve the ability of the examiner, and therefore are subjective. But the majority of this and every other phase of the identification process are such that objectivity can easily be maintained by the examiner who makes the concious effort to define and practice the ACE methodology.
VERIFICATION: The last portion of the latent print methodology addresses concerns regarding the verifiability and error prevention measures in latent print examination. The last step is that of verification, or having another examiner analyze, compare, and evaluate the two prints. Two competent and able latent print examiners following all three steps of the ACE process will reach the same conclusion. This speaks for the over-all objectivity of the entire examination process and addresses the issue of built-in safeguards that prevent error.
Other safeguards that exist to prevent error include QA/QC procedures and directives, proficiency testing, examiner (IAI) certification, agency (ASCLAD) certification, and simply following good laboratory procedures. Further education regarding the philosophy and methodology of latent print examination and their foundation in ridgeology are addressed by many of the courses and workshops on the Training page of this site. These and other educational opportunities allow the examiner to more fully understand and implement the the methodology of the identification process into the science of latent print examination.
Next week we will be looking at whether identifications of partial, distorted latent prints is reliable and/or tested.
If you would like to add to the concepts represented in this Detail, please make your way to the discussion forum and express your viewpoints. There are many other ways to address this issue, and there are contradictory viewpoints to those represented herein. Please feel free to express those opinions, because it is that discussion that promotes thinking which leads to understanding and being able to defend ones viewpoints. Check back throughout the day and see what others are saying.
If you would like to contribute to the Detail next week on distorted fragments, drop me a note!
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com THIS WEEK:
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.