Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
This week, I received an e-mail and
learned of the passing of a dedicated colleague who demonstrated excellence in
the field of latent prints. Below are some e-mail regards from friends of
"Bob Brien passed away on February 23. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in
November 2003 and our doctors really thought the treatment would work for Bob
but it wasn't in God's plan for Bob's life for him to get better. Yesterday was
his funeral service at our church and both police departments (Pontiac where he
served 25 years and Bloomfield Township where he was currently employed for 15
years) participated and honored Bob beyond description.
I want you to know how much he appreciated receiving the Detail each week and
always read and printed the articles. Thanks for your efforts.
One day in the early 90's at approximately 9:30 am a young lady reported that
she had been robbed while in her apartment on Square Lake across from Alan
Ford. Bob Brien went to the scene and processed the scene for evidence. I
interviewed the victim and a witness, then got back with Bob. Bob notified me
that he had lifted a print from inside the apartment. After completing the
scene, he took the latent print to the Oakland County Sheriff's department and
ran print through AFIS. By early after noon, Bob notified me as to who belonged
to the print he had lifted. A quick check with the victim revealed that she did
not know the suspect. I then went to the Pontiac police department and obtained
a photo of the suspect. By the time I had returned to the station, it was 4:00
pm and quitting time. I spoke with my then commander, Lt. Jeff Werner, and
advised him of what we had. Mind you, this young woman had been confronted by a
suspect inside her home at approximately 9:30 am and just 5 1/2 hours later, we
had the suspect made on prints inside the apartment, we had his photo, and a
couple of address where he might be in Pontiac. After advising the Lt. he asked
if I wanted to try and locate the suspect immediately. I responded in the
affirmative. The Lt. made a few calls, I called my wife and told her that I
would be a bit late, and we set out for Pontiac looking for our suspect. After
checking a couple of address, we were driving through the Lakeside Projects when
a vehicle approached from the North and slowed for a speed bump as we were
traveling North. The Lt. and the driver made eye contact, and the Lt. advised:
"You are not going to believe this, but that guy looks like our suspect". He
turned around and gave chase. As the Lt. was attempting to catch up with the
suspect, he may have rolled through a stop sign. As luck would have it again, a
Pontiac squad car observed this possible infraction and gave chase. A short
distance later, the suspect stopped. As the Lt. was trying to get himself out
of a traffic violation, I was able to approach the suspect and confirm that he
was indeed the man whom Bob Brien had positively identified being in our victims
apartment earlier in the day. He was taken into custody.
The suspect denied ever being in the victims apartment, at first. Then after
being confronted with the finger print evidence, he confessed. So, thanks to the
expert, trustworthy work of Bob Brien, and the good eyes of the Lt. and a little
luck, this particular crime was reported, investigated, and solved within eight
hours of it's occurrence.
In another case,
Brien kept a picture of a distinctive fingerprint and its scar that was lifted
from a bloody knife.
As was his usual
practice when an arrest was made, Brien would pull the fingerprints of a man
police were trying to identify, as well as any prints police have on file of the
man's relatives, in case the man tried to pass himself off as a relative.
When Brien pulled a
print, he noticed the distinctive scar that had eluded him for three years.
The print helped
convict the man of murder in 1987.
"That was before
they had (computer-assisted) fingerprint identification," said Randy Armstrong,
a retired Bloomfield Township police detective.
"That's the kind of guy he was.
Just a great guy."
Last week, we read excerpts from an article by Sandra Wiese
that touch on her perspectives regarding the philosophy and methodology of
latent print identification. This week, we take a look at an article that
recently appeared on the Associated Press newswire on digital imaging. We
have seen portions of it before, but the main part of the article is new.
Challenge Digitally Generated Evidence:
Associated Press, Sunday, February 22, 2004
Reyes went on trial for murder last year, the technology that fingered him was
supposed to be a star witness.
Police in Florida had used software known as More Hits to determine that a
smudged handprint they had found on duct tape wrapped around a body -- but
originally couldn't decipher -- implicated Reyes in the 1996 killing.
The judge let prosecutors introduce More Hits' digital enhancement. But the
defense called it "junk science," and had an art professor testify that the
process resembled how Adobe Photoshop can be used to make trick-photo
Reyes was acquitted.
Jurors said they based their decision mainly on the notion that the print didn't
prove Reyes was the killer -- not on the legitimacy of More Hits' method. And a
Florida appeals court later ruled that More Hits' technology -- used by 215 U.S.
police departments -- is acceptable.
Still, some defense attorneys learned a lesson: get more aggressive about
challenging digitally generated evidence.
"Now whenever you hear the word enhancement, an antenna goes up," said Hilliard
Moldof, a Florida defense attorney who is questioning digitally enhanced
fingerprints in two cases.
Or in the words of Mary DeFusco, head of training for the Philadelphia public
defender's office: "I thought digital was better, but apparently it's not. We're
definitely going to take a look at it."
As more police departments abandon chemically processed film in favor of digital
photography, the technology could be confounding for the justice system.
Film images are subject to darkroom tricks, but because digital pictures are
merely bits of data, manipulating them is much easier.
And although willful evidence manipulation is rare, forensic specialists
acknowledge that a poorly trained examiner incorrectly using computer
enhancement programs can unwittingly introduce errors.
"What you can do in a darkroom is 2 percent of what Photoshop is capable of
doing," said Larry Meyer, former head of photography for State Farm Insurance
Courts have consistently allowed digital photographs and enhancement techniques.
But some observers say such methods should endure a more thorough examination,
as have technologies such as DNA analysis.
"There have been relatively few challenges to the use of digital technology as
evidence and in most of them the courts have looked at them in a fairly
superficial way," said Edwin Imwinkelried, an evidence expert at the University
of California, Davis law school.
Concerns about the impeachability of digital photographs are one reason many
police departments have been hesitant to ditch film for crime scene photographs
and forensic analysis.
In fact, some people who train law enforcement agencies in photography estimate
that only 25 to 30 percent of U.S. police departments have gone digital --
despite the huge cost benefits of no longer having to buy film and the ease with
which digital pictures can be captured and disseminated.
The police department in Santa Clara bought 30 digital cameras recently but is
holding off on giving them to detectives and technicians until the department
specifies ways to lock away the original photos as evidence "so there can be no
question that anything was changed," said Sharon Hoehn, an analyst for the
George Pearl, who runs a civil-case evidence service in Atlanta and is a past
president of the Evidence Photographers International Council, sticks with film
partly because he doesn't want to explain on a witness stand if he used a
computer to adjust the contrast and other settings of a digital image.
"Even if it was honest adjustments," Pearl said. "Juries, they're all skeptical
and they're all sitting there waiting to jump on something that's wrong."
Some law enforcement officials also worry about the limitations that still
plague digital photography.
Digital pictures can't be blown up as clearly for courtroom displays as well as
film photos. Or the compression needed to store a digital file on disk can make
the image blurry or blocky, potentially obscuring key details.
"Digital imaging for the most part has a long way to go to meet the quality of
film," said Richard Vorder-Bruegge, an FBI forensic expert who chaired a panel
that wrote guidelines for law enforcement use of digital imaging.
For example, he said, a negative shot on traditional 200-speed film can produce
the equivalent of 18 megapixels of resolution. Only highly specialized,
expensive digital cameras approach that now; most that consumers buy are less
than 5 megapixels.
Vorder-Bruegge concedes that a top-notch photographer with plenty of time "could
do an outstanding job" with a 1-megapixel camera. But such skills are in short
supply in many police departments, especially smaller ones.
Consequently, he believes cops should stay with film for capturing close-up
details of footprints and tire tracks.
Many people in law enforcement believe Vorder-Bruegge's assessments are too
conservative. They say that with proper training and stringent procedures,
digital photos should not be problematic.
For one thing, blurriness or other errors in digital imaging are nowhere near
severe enough to "fool an examiner into misidentifying a fingerprint," said
George Reis, a crime scene investigator in Newport Beach, where police began
converting to digital a decade ago, saving more than $6,000 a month in Polaroid
costs. Reis helps other police agencies make the digital conversion through a
business he runs, Imaging Forensics.
In Oregon State Police's forensic laboratory, which has been all digital for
about five years, original pictures of fingerprints and other evidence are
encrypted so they can't be changed, and burned onto a CD, giving the lab the
equivalent of a film negative to reference later.
Any enhancement, such as lightening or darkening elements of the picture --
something traditionally done in film darkrooms as well -- is performed on a copy
of the image, not the original, said Mike Heintzman, the lab director.
Erik Berg, a forensic supervisor in Tacoma, Wash., and the developer of More
Hits, said digital photos can allow for even more security than traditional
means of stowing film negatives in a drawer.
"I have the ability to lock down one or more digital files to a point where I
can ensure not only who can or cannot look at it, but for how long, whether or
not they can print it or distribute it," he said. "I can also prove whether or
not it has been tampered with since it was created."
Perhaps most importantly, software such as More Hits or Adobe Photoshop now can
automatically log changes made to an image, so the alterations can be reproduced
by other people. The function was not deployed during the Reyes investigation in
Barbara Heyer, who defended Reyes, concedes that if used properly, the logging
function can improve the acceptability of digital evidence.
"Until there's a history of (what was done and when), not only will I attack it,
it should be attacked," Heyer said. Otherwise, "you are relying solely on the
word of the person doing the work. That's not something I would like to do when
someone's facing life in prison or death."
To discuss this Weekly Detail, log on to the CLPEX.com
message board: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)
More formal latent print discussions are available at
Don't allow 'reverse delegation'
Once you've assigned a task to an employee, don't allow yourself to be talked
into relieving the person of their responsibility. That can happen in the
blink of an eye.
Example: You allow yourself to be buttonholed in a hallway or the elevator.
The conversation begins "I think we have a problem." The "we" implies that
the person would like to bounce the task back to you. If you're not
careful, the problem will end up on your desk.
How should you handle this kind of situation? Make sure that the next move
belongs to the person to whom you have delegated the task.
Example: Say "You're right. There is a problem here. What are your
alternatives? Give me a call tomorrow and tell me how you've decided to
handle it. I support you 100%."
-Adapted from Work Smart, Not Hard, George Sullivan,
Facts on File Publications, via Communication Briefings, December 2003,
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
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Have a GREAT week!