T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, January 20, 2003
BREAKING NEWz you can
compiled by Jon Stimac
Centralizes Asylum Seekers' Fingerprints - IRISH
EXAMINER - Jan 14, 2003
Union is introducing a new centralized fingerprinting database for all
Evidence Introduced Against Malvo- THE
SAN DIEGO CHANNEL - Jan. 14, 2003 ...prosecutors
say fingerprint evidence links 17-year old sniper suspect to three fatal
Made in 1975 Slaying - THE
BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN -
Jan. 16, 2003 ...a
check through the nationwide Automated Fingerprint Identification System
Print on Leaked Report - THE
HERALD NEWS, NJ - Jan. 17, 2003 ...fingerprint
of a police officer was found on a confidential document which was sold to
Knows - WPVI.COM -
Jan. 17, 2003 ...during
a livestock show, identification via nose-printing is used because no two
Suspects Caught by INS with Prints From Cave - ARAB
NEWS - Jan. 18, 2003
digits matched prints registered by US military and from documents found
in Afghanistan caves...
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.
King Brown and Dawn Watkins will be the instructors at the following course in
Advanced Latent Fingerprint Recovery and Comparison
Public Safety Institute
Sheraton Orlando North
600 North Lake Destiny Drive
Maitland, Florida 32751
Web Link To flyer:
In response to Mr. Haber's interview on 60 Minutes which aired on
January 5, Lyla
Thompson, Secretary of the Latent Print Certification Board, felt compelled to clarify a few things
to latent print
certification: The over-all
pass rate of latent print examiners taking
the IAI Certification test is 51.8%. This figure is derived from the number of applicants taking the test and passing it since the program began in 1977. (recent
years have brought this average up slightly, but it takes a fairly drastic
change and also TIME to significantly increase an average over a quarter-century
time period) To successfully achieve certification, an applicant must successfully pass
all four parts of the test and not just the latent comparison part.
Part 1 is the latent print comparisons with a passing score of 80%. To achieve a score of 80%, the
applicant must successfully identify 12 of the 15 latent prints with no erroneous
identifications. If the remaining three latent
prints are not marked, that is
still a passing score,
but even one erroneous identification will result in failure. Part 2 is the
pattern interpretation with a passing score of 90%. Part 3 is the
true/false, multiple choice with a passing score of 85%. If an
applicant successfully completes the first three parts of the test, then a case
for review must be submitted for approval. All four parts of the test
must be successfully completed to be honored latent print certification.
Last week, we looked
at Ralph Norman Haber's article, "Error Rates for Human Latent Print
Examiners". This week, we look at the content of a recent radio talk
show on fingerprinting. The week before
last, I was contacted by the producer of the Mark Fuhrman radio talk show (out
WA) to be on the program. Several other examiners were contacted by
myself, all of whom had concerns regarding how the program might quickly become
hostile toward the fingerprint field, especially when they learned that Simon
Cole was slated to be the other guest on the show. Since contact for
approval could not be made with the Public Relations division of my agency, I
had to find someone else who could accept the invitation. Pat Wertheim
stepped up without reservation, as he had previously debated Simon Cole on
international BBC radio, and felt confident in being able to handle any
direction the show might turn.
I was able to contact a friend and colleague (LP Supervisor) with the Spokane
County Sheriff's Department, who graciously agreed on short notice to tape
record the show for me. Thank you, Carrie Johnson!!
The format of the show turned out to be educational in nature, rather than
hostile. The first hour was a question and answer period between the host
and Professor Cole, and the second hour was a question and answer period between
the host and Pat Wertheim. Naturally, occupying the show segment following
Professor Cole had the main benefit of being able to address previous issues
with no possibility of an issue ending critically at a later time.
Fuhrman also turned out to be a fair and un-biased host, despite fears that the ex-LAPD
Detective might be hostile toward a crime laboratory-oriented guest. He
asked relevant questions in an impartial manner, and allowed the issue to be
fully discussed without unnecessary interruption. Over-all, the program
was very educational to listeners and portrayed fingerprint examination in the
positive light it deserves.
The show began with a question from Fuhrman as to why Cole wrote his book, to
which Cole answered that fingerprints were not subjected to the same testing
that DNA has recently been put through. He elaborated that fingerprinting
is a skilled observation based on experience, but that doesn't make it
When asked how fingerprints are identified, Cole responded by correctly laying
the groundwork: that no two fingerprints are alike. He also elaborated
that no two impressions are ever alike because of distortion. "So
what fingerprint examiners are doing," says Cole, "is taking two
different images and coming to a conclusion that they were made by the same
source." After posing the question, "how do they come to a
conclusion," Cole answered his own question by referring to the 'old days,'
and having to have a certain number of points in agreement to declare a
match. But of course, he also threw in that today, there are no standards.
Fuhrman asked "so how do we know that no two fingerprints are the
same," to which Cole responded "historically, nobody has ever seen two
the same," and he followed the question with a question of his own:
"but what do you mean by the same?" He elaborated that they
could be similar, and that one tiny difference would mean that they are not the
same. Philosophically, he said, "No... but the question is
realistically... can two fingerprints be similar enough to fool a fingerprint
examiner." He ended his commentary with something to the effect of
"and we know there are those types of prints out there." When
the Richard Jackson case (the erroneous identification recently featured on 60
minutes) was brought up later in the show, Cole used it as an example "that
illustrates the point that fingerprints can be similar enough for examiners to
make dreadful mistakes."
"Will clones share the same fingerprints?" asked Fuhrman. Cole
responded, "As far as we know, they will be different..." and
emphasized that pattern is influenced by genetics while fine variations are
subject to environmental differences in the womb and pressure. He ended
with the fact that because developing skin is subjected to random processes, the
fingerprints of clones will probably be as different as the fingerprints of
Several questions were asked about AFIS, culminating in a discussion of where
the real problem lies in fingerprinting. Cole correctly related that
fingerprints themselves were not the culprit; that it is unlikely that the cause
of erroneous identifications are identical prints, rather that humans cause
identifications. "The process is humans making matches."
says Cole. "If humans are fallible, the system is fallible." he
Throughout the show, Fuhrman kept bringing up the concept that the increase in
technology over the last decade or two has brought about a
attitude on the
part of investigators in relying too much on forensics to solve the crime.
Cole used this time to make some pointed remarks toward the shift of training
from classification to latent prints. "The training ground used to be
classification," Cole stated. "Classification is now done by
computers, and that training ground isn't here anymore. The FBI is now training
classification... it will be interesting to see how that works out."
He failed to mention that the Illinois State Police have had excellent results
with this method for several decades.
An interesting discussion also ensued regarding biased. Fuhrman posed the
question, "would the influence of an investigator bringing a suspect to the
examiner offer a possible reason for some erroneous idents?" Cole
elaborated on a scenario:
The first examiner makes an error - the second examiner is biased into claiming
a match. Perhaps the first examiner is skewed by the mindset of the
investigator already having the prints of a suspect, the second examiner by the
first, etc. Fuhrman brought out speculation that the scenario would
violate the definition of science because it was not a 'blind' study, to which
Cole elaborated that "real science acknowledges perceptual bias - but they
take steps to minimize that bias. Fingerprint examiners do
Fuhrman asked, "When you wrote your book, did you have a pro/con position
on fingerprinting in the courtroom?" Cole replied that since courts
have not demanded that fingerprinting declare its accuracy, so therefore we
don't know. Fuhrman suggested that a judge has made no such statement
because he would have been inundated
with appeals. Cole stated that in fact there was such a judge that made a
statement, but that "he apparently came under pressure and reversed his
decision." Cole also threw in that "until latent print examiners
are punished in that way, (declaring the accuracy of fingerprinting) won't
Fuhrman brought up that the IAI is "the body" for
fingerprinting, yet half of all fingerprint examiners aren't even certified...
that there is no national requirement... that analysts are examined based on
their qualifications. Cole pointed out that "if the courts aren't
demanding it, why do it?"
In concluding the first hour, Fuhrman asked Cole's opinion as to what he thinks
will happen to fingerprinting... will it be a "quiet passing?"
Cole replied, "My prediction as a historian is that we are seeing the
beginning of a transition into a new system of identification." (DNA)
The second hour began with a question to Pat: "So, what do you think of
what Professor Cole had to say?" After the courteous "I agree
with most everything he had to say" statement (there is a fine balance
between saying what you think... and not alienating the audience) Pat launched
into an excellent clarification (similar to what we have seen in past Details)
on Forensic Science versus "Pure" science.
Fuhrman brought up the issue of "points," and how many points does it
take to make an identification, and Pat launched into a well-balanced history of
the point standard, starting with Galton coining the term
"Point". It was emphasized that since then researchers have
refined the mathematical point-based models, and the example was given that AFIS
systems use algorithms based on a refined version of Galtons crude model.
But it was quickly clarified that the human brain relies on much more than just
points... that it takes into account the fine levels of detail in a pristine
versus a fuzzy print, resulting in a quantitative / qualitative assessment.
I shuddered when Pat answered the question "how do we know no two people
have the same fingerprints" with the reply "we can't say
absolutely." (SIDE NOTE FOLLOWS: But I guess in the most strict
sense of the term absolute, he holds the same opinion that most scientists
would. I still like to think of biological uniqueness as absolute, but
everyone keeps relating seemingly conflicting truths: "Absolutely nothing
in nature is exactly the same" and "Nothing is absolute."
Think about that one three times real fast. ha ha. Discussion Board
Frequenters: LET'S DISCUSS!!! :) but beware of the discussion board
banner ads... they are getting bigger! I may have to switch to an embedded
message board soon. Enough rambling... SIDE NOTE ENDS) He continued
with biological uniqueness: "Babler is the definitive author - the plethora
of factors including random stress, pressure, etc. is too great." He
ended with the words of Champod, properly credited: that "you can't say
absolutely... but the chances of that happening are so infinitesimally small
that you can completely disregard it."
"Then why are we in the situation of having erroneous
identifications?" asked Fuhrman. "The problem," Pat stated,
"is that the U.S. has no training standards. The Chief can come in
one day and say 'hey, Mark!... we need a fingerprint expert... go to this 40
hour course and get to work!'". He emphasized that we are the only
country that does it this way... the UK has a 3-5 year modular training program,
New Zealand requires 5 years of training before casework... that we are so far
below the average it's not even funny. He did clarify that some U.S.
agencies who DO want to do things right have outstanding programs, but that it
is not the average. And the US can't require those types of training
standards because of the numerous local and county departments across the
nation. The countries where that works have only a few police
departments. Further commentary regarding erroneous identifications
included factors in the 60 minutes program that were not mentioned. Pat
argued that an ethical prosecutor who is presented with two retired FBI
examiners saying it is NOT a match, should take a step back and say 'wait a
minute.' Further, a Jury hearing testimony from 3 witness that it is a
match and 2 that it isn't, should be screaming "reasonable doubt!"
When asked about forensic science and subjectivity, Pat opined that the entire
field of forensic science should be unrelated to the police. "Perhaps
it should be a function of the courts," he said, and he followed that with
"A good crime lab will have strict policy that officers are not to be
present when examinations are conducted."
Fuhrman did give his viewpoints on jury intelligence:
that jurors are just normal people... except they aren't smart enough to get out
of jury duty.
When asked if DNA would replace fingerprints, Pat explained it well: "If
you get a new wrench for your toolbox, you don't throw away all your old
wrenches. You keep them, and the fact is you will have instances when the
old wrench fits better, and you will have instances where the new wrench fits
better. That's what DNA and fingerprint are... they are tools. One
won't replace the other; both will be utilized."
Fuhrman inquired how it was possible for a detective to rely on fingerprints
being the only evidence in the case. Pat mentioned that one problem is
that many detectives see fingerprints as a way to catch bad guys, not to clear
innocent people. They view the science in a totally different way than
non-law enforcement examiners. "So, if there is an extremely small
percentage of abuse in this field, will defense attorney's raising this issue
create reasonable doubt?" Pat replied emphatically,
"The opposite is true!... defense attorney's don't raise the issues
enough." He elaborated that as a latent print examiner, if you aren't
able to defend against an attack, maybe the evidence wasn't so good in the first
place. The problem is that the defense will usually encourage the
defendant to plead guilty, or won't ask questions of the latent print
examiner. And of course, they could always hire their own expert to look
at the print.
Do you have input on this topic?
To discuss this issue or
related topics, visit the informal CLPEX.com
As usual, the onin.com forum
(http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent
I received a link to a HILARIOUS website last week, and it inspired me to
create a new section of the Weekly Detail for these funny finds. I was
thinking about calling the section "Funny Fingerprint Finds", but I
would entertain suggestions for the name of this section. I know you have
probably been surfing the internet at some point and come across some
off-the-wall comment about fingerprints. THIS is the column to submit it
to!! Next time you find something, copy the text and paste it in an e-mail
to me with 1) the date and 2) the internet address (pasted directly from the
browser bar when you are on the page, and pasted into the e-mail also. I'm
looking for Weird, Crazy, Senseless, FUNNY stuff. Here is one of the
examples sent to me this week. Thank you to Laura Watts for our first
submission, and for inspiring the weekly column, FUNNY FINGERPRINT FINDS
fingerprint depends on your age and gender and how it can change a loop to a
double loop in a mater of 70 years.
copied on 1-14-03
HEY... It's on the internet... it must be true,
CLPEX.com this week...
Updated the Detail Archives
Updated the Newzroom
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners. This is
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!