T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, September 23, 2002
Good morning via the "Detail,"
a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets latent print examiners around the globe
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, I mentioned that the Advanced
Latent PhotoShop Demonstrations course was in the works for California.
It has been confirmed for November 23, 24, and 25 in the San Bernardino area.
Rooms must be reserved at the La Quinta inn in Ontario, California by 11-08-02
to qualify for the block room rate of $89 per night plus tax (for up to 4
guests per room at the same rate). The first step is reserving your seat
in the course, as response has been overwhelming, there is limited seating,
and we are expecting a packed house. Contact Bonnie at FITS to register
and secure your seat today! (888-235-1230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
For those traveling to attend, the nearest airport is Ontario International, and
the hotel is very close to the airport. Our course host, Jim Nursall,
recommends Ontario over LAX. Maps and details will be available to those
who register. For more details on the course, visit the Training page of
the website and click on the new entry: Advanced Latent PhotoShop
Many of you were present at the IAI conference in Vegas when the VanDam print
(done in PhotoShop) was presented. I told the packed house that I would
make available the video tape of the Adobe PhotoShop presentation by Pat
Wertheim in court. If you were not present, this video shows the
court testimony of the original latent print examiner, Jeffrey Graham Jr., Pat
Wertheim's testimony showing the presentation of the
PhotoShop demonstration I provided, and the Court TV commentary on this
testimony. Complete case details will be added to the new VanDam page of
the website soon. However, you may now order your own copy of the video
from Connections Unlimited, a company here in Meridian, who will copy the tape
and mail it within the U.S. for $10. I am sure they would work out
international shipping also. Simply contact Harvey Scott via e-mail at
CU6777@aol.com and request a copy of the
Fingerprint video. Be sure to include your name, e-mail, and
shipping address, and advise him that payment is on the way. Send the $10
to: Harvey Scott, 2440 N. Hills Street, Meridian, MS, 39305. He is
offering an unconditional $ back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied.
You may also telephone Harvey at (601) 485-6777 with a credit card or send a
check or money order to that street address with order details.
Last week, we looked at the second article in a series from Glenn Langenburg on
defending against the critic, Professor
James Starrs. We will continue this series next week with the final
article on Dr. David Stoney. The entire three-part article will be
archived in the "Legal" section of the "Articles" page of this site, as well as
in the Archive section of the Weekly Detail. This week, we take a break
from the series to look a little closer at a news article that some of you have
already seen circulating via e-mail over the last week. I received the
first e-mail with a link to this article last Friday, and decided NOT to put it
in the Detail last week because I didn't have all the facts. I am glad I
waited, because the whole story wasn't told by that news article and a
subsequent news article in a different State.
Do you ever wonder why there are so many policies and procedures regulating some
of the things we do? Do you become frustrated that there are so many standards
and methods, formulas and processes that we have to follow? There are SWGFAST
recommended standards, ASCLD standards, IAI recommendations. There is department
policy, agency procedures, and bureau policy and laboratory procedures. Does the
library of policy and procedure guidelines seem to overwhelm you? Do you feel
like all these policies and procedures bog you down with paperwork and greatly
increase the time it takes to complete each case?
While some of these procedures may seem to be self-perpetuating and appear to
have no purpose, the importance of following policy and procedure is
occasionally reinforced through certain unfortunate sets of circumstances. A
recent case in the Western United States demonstrates the consequences involved
in a series of events all lining up and certain procedures not being followed.
A body of a woman was found out in the desert near Las Vegas, Nevada. The body
was badly decomposed and some of the only clues present in helping to identify
the body were general physical description and a rose tattoo. After some skin
restoration using tissue builder, a single inked thumb print of value was
obtained from the body.
Detectives and the coroner's office investigators came up with a number of
possible individuals from listings of missing persons all over the West. From
time to time, they obtained sets of fingerprints and brought them to Las Vegas
Metro's Fingerprint (ten-print) section for preliminary comparisons in an
attempt to identify the dead woman. All of these attempts proved negative.
Then LVMPD detectives developed a lead on a possible missing person out of
California, near Santa Rosa, that matched the physical description and the
tattoo. The California Sheriff's Office faxed a copy of her fingerprint card to
the LVMPD detective on this case. He took the fax and the fingerprint from the
body to a personal friend and helpful employee with about 25 years of ten-print
experience who, although not involved in comparisons within the 10-print
section, had been helping the coroner's office make identifications for many
years. This employee, a LEST (Law Enforcement Support Technician) Supervisor,
who works in the Convicted Person Registration section, made a comparison of the
fax with the autopsy print and decided that they were the same person. This set
in motion a bizarre set of circumstances that resulted in a woman planning the
funeral of a daughter that was later discovered alive.
When the mother of the missing Santa Rosa subject was notified of the death of
her daughter she at first protested but eventually accepted that her daughter
was dead and set about making funeral plans. Then when a routine computer entry
regarding the death of the woman was made a red flag appeared. The missing
person entry was marked as "found." Apparently a Santa Rosa police officer had
recently (after the discovery of the body) stopped the missing woman and a
report was made of the stop. Naturally, this developed many questions as to the
identity of the dead body.
After receiving this information, the LVMPD homicide detective obtained a mailed
copy of the set of fingerprints from California and took them back to the the
Technician who had made the original identification for a re-examination of the
prints. She declared that the ten-prints and the autopsy print did NOT match.
Noticing the reluctance on the face of the detective, she advised him to also
take the prints to the LVMPD Forensic Laboratory, specifically the Latent Print
Unit. After a comparison, the LVMPD Latent Print Examiner confirmed for the
detective that indeed the prints were not made by the same individual.
The detective then had to notify the family that the body was not that of their
daughter. This notification was made very close to the day of the funeral.
Subsequently, the daughter was located in a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa,
California, very much alive. Naturally, the local California newspapers picked
up the story:
Upon analysis, some of the extenuating circumstances that came into play in this
case are: the use of faxed known prints, a poor quality autopsy print, only one
autopsy fingerprint available, the physical similarities of the woman to that of
the dead body, similarities of the fingerprints themselves, the methods of
making victim eliminations and the form of notification for fingerprint
By following SWGFAST and other recommendations, almost every latent print unit
has a formalized verification process for every identification and most
Ten-print units follows suit. LVMPD is no exception. The supervisor of LVMPD's
AFIS section advises that upon every ten-print identification, a file is opened
containing copies of both sets of prints, any local record computer printouts
and a report (or letter) of notification of the identification listing the
additional person verifying the identification. The AFIS section, while also
charged with AFIS administration, regularly conducts ten-print comparisons
assisting other agencies with identifying individuals.
Most agencies also have policies regarding the use of fax copies to make
identifications. It is not usually a good practice, though some fax machines
finally have the technology to produce fairly good copies. Some agencies give the examiner the discretion to request a photocopy of a set
of fingerprints before issuing a notification of identification.
A complication that is not usually addressed in policy and procedures is the
pressure put upon the examiner by detectives and district attorneys. While there
is no direct indication that this happened in this case, it is certainly a
training issue to warn new examiners not to succumb to any pressure brought
about by detectives. It may even be necessary to postpone requesting officer
notification until after they have left the office and the identification has
been verified. There are many anecdotes about detectives saying "I know this is
the guy, I just want to be sure" and "could you just give me a quick positive on
this so I can arrest this guy." These are the phrases that veteran examiners
have learned to ignore and continue to follow procedures such as verification
before making any notifications of identifications.
Another anomaly that fingerprint examiners need to be aware of is the tendency
to treat victim eliminations differently. There is a propensity to accept victim
eliminations or ten-print comparisons without a through examination of the
fingerprint, after finding only a few corresponding features in agreement and
not "running the ridges" and examining all the available data in the
fingerprint. This is especially dangerous when using poor quality or smudged
Some of the procedures that must be followed when making fingerprint
identifications are the verification process, and the formal report or
notification process. These procedures should apply to all identifications
including ten-print to ten-print, victim elimination. Additionally, the
restriction of the use of fax prints should be addressed and the quality of the
autopsy prints should be considered.
Many times, certain aspects of the policy and procedure library can help rather
than hinder. They generally serve to protect individuals and certainly can
prevent unwanted or unforeseen complications that may arise during the course of
agency business. As latent print examiners, we should recognize the importance
of policy and procedure and take appropriate measures to operate within those
standards on a daily basis.
I feel that it is appropriate to commend the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
Department and the examiner in question for admitting that an erroneous
identification was made, being open and honest about the reasons behind the
mistake, and using the situation as a tool to learn rather than doing as some
agencies have done in the past and ignore the problem. I have the utmost
confidence that all the circumstances that lined up just right have been
considered, and the situation is being used in as positive a manner as possible.
To contrast this situation, the examiners from the SCRO still maintain that the
latent print on the door frame inside the home of Marion Ross was the print of
Shirley McKie, and their agency still defends them. Another petition has been
given to the Scottish Parliament with the intent of an independent review of the
case to be performed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, namely David
Ashbaugh. Details below are from a recent message board post by Iain McKie.
On 19 September Allan Bayle and Michael Russell, Shirley's Member of the
Scottish Parliament, handed in a unique petition to the Scottish Parliament on
behalf of Allan, David Grieve, Pat Wertheim and Arie Zeelenberg.
In the petition, shown in full below, they stated that the current SCRO
..threatening to the reputation and integrity of Scottish fingerprint and
forensic evidence, damaging to the science of fingerprinting world-wide and has
the potential to seriously and adversely impact on the administration and fair
delivery of justice in Scotland.'
The experts believe that the SCRO is using the fiction that,
..fingerprint evidence is a matter of opinion
to cover up errors by experts
within the SCRO.'
They have asked the Scottish Parliament to call on the services of Canadian
expert David Ashbaugh to examine the situation and,
.. to outline what lessons can be learned regarding openness and
accountability within the Scottish Criminal Records Office and how procedures
for handling mistakes as outlined in recommendations of Her Majesty's
Inspectorate of Constabulary enquiry can best be developed'.
In an interesting development the day before the petition was delivered the
Scottish Minister for Justice, in giving evidence to the Justice Committee,
'Fingerprint evidence is not an exact science. There is an 'art form' there, it
is a skill that does involve judgement that can't be broken down to an exact
This comment was widely attacked politically for undermining the forensic
sciences and being an attempt to support the SCRO contention that fingerprinting
is a matter of opinion and not a science. (see news reports below)
The Minister was also attacked for failing to respond to the June petition
signed by over 150 world experts who had pointed out the need for remedial
action at SCRO..
Australian ABC TV is screening the first BBC 'Panorama' programme, 'The Finger
of Suspicion', on Monday 23 September at 8.30pm Australian time. It will be
followed by an internet debate at 9:30pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time -
12.30pm UK time.)If interested in further information log on to: http://abc.net.au/4corners/
Petition to the Scottish Parliament.
Review of openness, transparency and the admission of mistakes at the Scottish
Criminal Records Office.
We the undersigned work as professionals in the field of fingerprint
We believe that the current position adopted by the Scottish Criminal Records
Office (SCRO) to support their erroneous fingerprint identifications in the
cases of Shirley McKie and David Asbury, that - "fingerprint evidence is a
matter of opinion" - is unique in the world.
This position, as articulated during and after the court cases, is untenable,
even in the medium term, threatening to the reputation and integrity of Scottish
fingerprint and forensic evidence, damaging to the science of fingerprinting
world-wide and has the potential to seriously and adversely impact on the
administration and fair delivery of justice in Scotland.
While we believe that this position has been wrongfully used to cover up errors
by experts within the SCRO its most important impact is to distract from proper
action as proposed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in the 2000
Primary Inspection Report on the Fingerprint Bureau of the Scottish Criminal
Record Office in respect of restoring openness and accountability and
instituting effective procedures for the handling of mistakes.
We maintain that such restorative action is not possible until there has been an
honest admission of previous errors.
We do not believe that such a situation should be allowed to continue
unchallenged and therefore have decided to petition the Scottish Parliament on
the matter in order to respectfully suggest that the Parliament's Petitions
Committee or some other Committee of the Parliament undertake an enquiry into
the topic to seek definitive evidence and information on the issues we raise.
We know that there is huge international interest in these cases and the
world-wide fingerprint community has discussed them many times and continues to
exchange information on them.
We believe that the best way to resolve the matters we raise is to commission a
fingerprint expert of world renown to examine them and therefore respectfully
suggest that the relevant committee of the Scottish Parliament seeks the
assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to obtain the services of one of
the world's foremost fingerprint experts, Staff Sergeant David Ashbaugh, in this
The Scottish Parliament is also petitioned to commission Mr Ashbaugh to outline
what lessons can be learned regarding openness and accountability within the
Scottish Criminal Records Office and how procedures for handling mistakes as
outlined in recommendations of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary
enquiry can best be developed.
We append details of Mr Ashbaugh's unique qualifications and citations in the
fingerprint world and we also attach details of our own qualifications and
experience. We confirm that we are also happy to do everything in our power to
facilitate the petitioned review.
. 18 September 2002..
Allan J Bayle
Signed on behalf of the Petitioners
Allan J Bayle - United Kingdom
David Grieve - United States of America
Pat A. Wertheim - United States of America
Arie Zeelenberg - The Netherlands
Experts seek fingerprint inquiry
BBC: 19 September 2002.
International experts are demanding the Scottish Parliament hold an inquiry into
The move follows comments by Justice Minister Jim Wallace that fingerprinting
was an art form and "not an exact science".
Four leading forensic scientists - two from the USA, one from the Netherlands
and one from England - have petitioned the Scottish Parliament calling for the
They are asking the parliament to seek the services of Royal Canadian Mounted
Police officer David Ashbaugh, said to be one of the world's foremost experts in
The Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) is accused of covering up errors by
its staff and its attitude was preventing openness and accountability as
recommended last year by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
Allan Bayle, one of the petitioners and a former Scotland Yard fingerprint
expert, said the SCRO had to "put its house in order". "They are still denying
and saying it is only opinion," he said.
"It is not opinion. It's a fact in black and white. Either it is or it isn't or
it's inconclusive, nothing else."
The petition was backed by Ian McKie, the father of former policewoman Shirley
McKie whose case led to reforms in Scotland's fingerprint system. Mr. McKie
said: "Quite bluntly if experts in DNA or any of the other forensic sciences did
what the fingerprint experts did then these sciences would have absolutely no
value at all."
Scottish National Party MSP for South of Scotland Mike Russell said the SCRO and
Scottish justice were "becoming a laughing stock throughout the world".
In May, 160 experts from all over the world had signed an open letter to Mr
Wallace to show the scale of international alarm over the issue.
He added: "Scotland has to get its house in order and the only way to do that
now if the Scottish Executive will not do so, is to have an independent inquiry.
"We are suggesting the person who can undertake that is one of the world experts
in fingerprinting and I hope the justice committee, if this is passed on, will
treat that very seriously."
John McAllion, convener of the parliament's petitions committee, said it would
be considered on 8 October and confirmed it was competent even though it had
been submitted by non-Scots.
Daily Record - 20.9.02
DIM Jim Wallace faced fresh embarrassment yesterday when crimefighters from
around the world demanded an inquiry into Scotland's fingerprinting system.
Four international experts petitioned the Scottish Parliament to demand an
It follows Justice Minister Wallace's claim that fingerprinting was "an art
form, not an exact science".
The experts - one from England, two from America and one from Holland - want
Parliament to "call in the Mounties" to sort out the Scottish Criminal Records
They accused the SCRO of claiming fingerprint evidence was a matter of opinion
in a bid to "cover up errors" and they want an inquiry to be led by David
Ashbaugh, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - one of the world's top
Their petition has been backed by Ian McKie, the father of former WPC Shirley
McKie, whose case led to reforms of Scotland's fingerprint system. The Ayrshire
officer was accused of perjury after she denied being at a crime scene where her
fingerprints were found. Following a lengthy court battle, she won her case.
Former policeman Mr McKie warned yesterday: "We will be second or third rate in
terms of forensic sciences until we sort this out." He added: "In Scotland, it
is an art form - after all they created my daughter's fingerprints - but
elsewhere in the world it is a science."
The petition was given to committee convener John McAllion yesterday by former
Scotland Yard fingerprint expert Allen Bayle, who said the SCRO had to "put its
house in order".
Nationalist MSP Mike Russell warned: "The SCRO is becoming a laughing stock.
"How can the Scottish public, lawyers and the courts have any faith in the
evidence they produce? "And how can they have confidence in the Justice Minister
if he repeats their fictions?"
The informal CLPEX.com
is available for banter about the Detail, and the onin.com forum
(http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!