Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Cops: Bank Robber Caught –
PAWTUCKET TIMES, RI - Oct. 2, 2004
...the robber took care to keep his
fingerprints from the counter of the credit union, but he ran out of
luck once he stepped outside...
ID System That Scans Palm OK'd By Police Agency –
ARIZONA REPUBLIC, AZ - Sept. 30, 2004
...agency to purchase a $50,000
automated fingerprint identification system that can digitally read
palm prints and integrate with their records management system...
Man Charged With Step-Daughter's Murder –
WLOX-TV, MS - Sept. 28, 2004
...police received test results from
the state crime lab linking suspect to a bloody palm print found at
the murder site...
Company Wins Fingerprint ID Contract –
ONLINE, DC - Sept. 23, 2004
...DigitalNet will provide fingerprint identification services to
the Homeland Security Department under a new $25 million contract...
we further explored the concept of latent print sufficiency as a three-tiered structure
by publication (with permission, of course) of a couple of follow-up issues.
It occurred to me last week, as I was preparing for a presentation at the
Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers (SCAFO) conference, that
there is another tier to sufficiency; AFIS value. Not all "identifiable"
prints are suitable for AFIS entry. I will be writing up a final draft of
this entire concept into a paper I will make available for publication by state or regional IAI
division newsletters. What better way promote an understanding of latent
print sufficiency issues than to distribute the information to those
investigators and crime scene personnel who often collect our evidence. I
will let you know when that is available
we explore what role doubt and caution should play in latent print examination.
Caution, Doubt, and Inconclusion
Potential ramifications of recent
At the SCAFO meeting in Covina California on Saturday, I had the pleasure of
presenting and participating in a panel discussion on errors, ethics, and
integrity. Several points came up in discussion that I felt would fit in
nicely to the last two details on the concept of sufficiency.
One of the themes that was consistent throughout the comments of each panel
member (names available on www.scafo.org) was
doing the right thing when you know that is what needs to be done. This
concept related to latent print examination is simple: if you know it, report
it; if you don't, don't report that you do. But recently, examiners may be
questioning what they know, how to best use their experience, and how to
articulate the knowledge and experience they have always had.
Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing (we should all constantly strive to
know more about our discipline and present that knowledge in a transparent way), there may be a tendency by some examiners to
doubt conclusions that simply should not be doubted. Likewise, recent
events have introduced a healthy dose of caution in some examiners. Most
likely, we all fall within a range covering the gamut of response from
over-reaction to complete disregard of recent errors. Regardless of where
you fall in this range, nothing except benefit can result from considering the
ramifications of such incidents to the work you do on a daily basis.
For a latent print examiner, knowledge of the uniqueness of friction ridge skin
is sometimes taken for granted. We know how incredibly unique even small
areas of an impression can be. And we have seen so much of this uniqueness
time and time again that when we recognize a sufficient quality and quantity of
that uniqueness in two impressions, we simply know an impression matches.
But the issue of sufficiency is decided based on the knowledge, training,
experience, and other factors of ability of the examiner who is conducting that
The fact is, above a certain quality and quantity, nobody questions the
uniqueness of fingerprints. Even most critics agree that 10 fingerprints
or a fully-rolled fingerprint is unique. Latent print examiners have
detailed knowledge that small areas are unique, and for over a century that
knowledge has been accurately applied in our discipline. However, the
public, critics, juries, even attorneys don't fully understand how much
uniqueness exists in small areas of FRS impressions, and therefore are not in a
position to judge whether a correct decision is made with absolute confidence.
You are the person with that knowledge.
But another fact exists... that human experiences are a part of our expertise.
The knowledge we learn from textbooks, discussions with other examiners, and
experience from looking at impressions all affect our level of expertise and
therefore our ability as examiners. In fact, even the circumstance and
experience of other examiners should be used to better ourselves. If we
don't learn from error, we are certainly worse off than before.
I don't profess to know the reasons behind recent high-profile errors. But
I know that efforts are being made to discover and make public those reasons for
the betterment of our discipline. In the mean time, the question remains
should we be more cautious, more skeptical,... doubtful? These are
difficult questions, and the answer most likely depends on you.
The fact is, everything you know becomes a part of who you are. Knowledge
that individuals have made errors based on the appearance of two impressions
should spark within us the natural curiosity to see those impressions, compare
them (in concept) to impressions we routinely see, and determine or validate
that we are operating within the boundaries of conservatism on which our
discipline has built the reputation of being the gold standard of forensic
Depending on an examiners reaction to the impression that resulted in an error,
they may or may not change the way they do their work. But regardless of
the reaction of any specific examiner to any set of impressions, the more
important concept to explore is that of experience. Your experience.
The reason this is the overriding concept is because those impressions, your
reaction to the impressions, and what you decide to do as a result of close
matches becomes a part of who you are. It becomes a part of the knowledge
you posses. It becomes your experience.
And for those who have had the opportunity to cross the line and make an
erroneous identification, you have probably learned the most from that
experience. You are able to say something that most examiners are not:
that you KNOW where the line is... you know how far is too far. You have
been there and done that, and I bet you never wish to experience that feeling
again. You can also evaluate each case you look at under that newfound
threshold and use (and articulate) that experience in a healthy and productive
way, if you choose to do so.
The discussion at SCAFO was excellent... I wish each one of you were there.
The bottom line is that errors may affect us all in different ways, but they
become a part of who we are and we learn from each one. As we take
fingerprint examination into the next century, continue to hold ethics and
professionalism in high regard, report what you know, and don't report what you
don't know, and fingerprint examination has just as good a chance of
remaining the gold standard of forensic science for another century.
Don't forget about our "Close Calls" page. If you have examples of prints
that are close but are non-matches, scan them at 1000ppi and send to
To discuss this Detail, the
message board is always open: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)
More formal latent print discussions are available at
On critical attacks to our discipline:
Create enough psychological safety [for
people] to speak up. Reward it, and ingrain it into the culture.
Then we'll make [outside attacks] irrelevant.
-Warren Bennis speaking on courage [comments in brackets inserted by the author]
From "How do Today's CEOs Define Bold Leadership" in Fast Company Magazine,
www.fastcompany.com, September, 2004.
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