Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Border Patrol Expands Fingerprint Searches –
FCW.COM - Oct. 7, 2004
...Patrol agents can now search
through two federal fingerprint databases to see if aliens crossing
illegally into the US are wanted...
Man Accused in Bombings Sues Government –
SALEM STATESMAN, OR - Oct. 5, 2004
...lawyer arrested by FBI after his
fingerprint was incorrectly matched claims he was singled out
because of his faith...
Detainee Fingerprint Ruckus –
NEWSDAY, NY - Oct. 5, 2004
...Police Department illegally printed the majority of people
detained during the Republican National Convention...
L.A. Fugitive Apprehended After 13 Years –
MIAMI HERALD, FL
- Oct. 5, 2004 ...Florida
fugitive task force members pick up a Pompano Beach man wanted for a
13-year-old murder in California...
we looked at a link to the Mayfield case and the IAI update.
the Boston Globe reports that the Boston, Massachusetts Police Department will
temporarily shut down operations in the latent print section as a result of an
audit stemming from the Cowans erroneous identification.
Mark Beck brings us our feature article this week...
A Cautionary Tale for Fingerprint Examiners Re: LiveScan/AFIS
by Mark David Beck, CLPE/CSA
My training and experience are in latent print examination, crime scene
investigation, and general investigations as a police detective. For the past
year and a half I have been employed as an AFIS Operator for a relatively small
state agency. In this capacity I have learned a number of things that I believe
fingerprint examiners should know but may not be aware of or seriously consider
on a regular basis. One incident in particular has been an enlightening
experience for me, and I hope through this article that recent incident will be
an “eye opener” for someone who needs it. I will address five issues in this
article, some more obvious than others, but hopefully there is something here
While processing livescan criminal arrest submissions, I recognized that there
was an identical fingerprint on two separate submissions from one livescan
site. One person was male and one female, coming in within a few minutes of
each other. The #6, “left thumb,” and the left thumb of the simultaneous
impressions were of the same finger on both cards. All other prints on the
cards were different. Because neither person was still in custody and there
were no other prints on file for either person, the origin of this “thumb print”
is unknown. How the error occurred, be it operator or system problem is also
The livescan system did not indicate an error to the operator or on the
submitted “card”…as far as it was concerned, the fingerprints were of sufficient
clarity and were in sequence.
The AFIS system did not indicate the error for two reasons. First, one
submission was male and the other female. As it searches by sex first, one
could not have hit on the other. Second, as livescan submissions are processed
in batches, neither would have been completed and registered in the system
before the other searched.
The reasons the error was discovered were due to what I believe is a somewhat
unique set of circumstances. First, I am an admittedly slow but thorough AFIS
Operator who looks at every fingerprint on every card. Second, my experience and
training are as a latent examiner and not as a ten print examiner. I often
remember some fingerprints better than some people’s names. And third, I am
privileged to work for an agency that currently allows me to stress quality over
production quantity. With a faster operator, a production and volume driven
agency depending on scores and the system to indicate errors or in a “lights
out” system or “semi lights out” system, this type of error probably would have
The fact is, that there are two sets of criminal arrest fingerprint cards with
the same “left thumb” print which is of unknown origin. It is not hard to
postulate that given my short time in an AFIS-related work environment and the
fact that our agency does not process the volume of submissions that many do,
finding one such error indicates that the possibility of finding additional
examples of that type of error is quite likely.
Although most likely statistically insignificant, the existence of this type of
error is something I did not previously imagine, yet it is something that we
should all be aware of. It is not hard to imagine what the result could have
been in this case: a hit to a print on a criminal card that was not that person
because one of their file prints was not really theirs. It is not hard to also
imagine a miss on a good latent because a file print on a card or in AFIS is not
that person’s and the actual true print is completely missing. In a situation
as the one I am relating, one submission being male and one being female, a
search by sex would automatically miss one and the appearance of the print on
two different persons’ entries would go undetected. Even if a “hard card” was
obtained, it would still be a print out of the livescan submission and the fact
that there is an identical print on another person’s card or to whom the print
actually belongs would be unknown.
Although somewhat obvious, it should be recognized that the fingerprints on an
arrest card/AFIS entry, do not necessarily belong to the person whose
information is on the card. It is not uncommon through clerical error or false
identity claims that the prints and the person are not the same. Even a simple
error such as entering the gender incorrectly will cause a miss if gender is
used as a search parameter.
It is not uncommon for a fingerprint to be out of sequence or for one or more
fingers to be repeated in two boxes as in the #2 finger being rolled in the #2
and #3 boxes and the #3 finger not being rolled at all. Sequence errors as
indicated by livescan stations are so common that they are often overlooked and
even over-ridden by operators. Sequence checking in AFIS systems is often a
function that is turned off to speed up processing. You may have a good latent
print that misses because a finger did not make it onto the card and therefore
not into AFIS. Likewise, a finger may be out of sequence and in the wrong box;
setting a search parameter of the correct finger number would actually cause a
It is also possible for a good quality latent print to miss a good quality known
print because of the manner in which the systems plot points. AFIS systems do
not use the same rules that fingerprint examiners are generally taught. AFIS
also sometimes plots so-called “false-minutia”: incipient ridges, ridge endings
along voids left by scars or wrinkles, or bifurcations at large pores. It may
miss pattern type or axis and core. AFIS systems even occasionally miss good
tenprint to good ten print searches because of these reasons and because they
can plot different characteristics for submissions of the same person as the
appearance can be somewhat different. Just because your search missed doesn’t
mean the correct matching known fingerprint is not in the system. And just
because you’ve registered a latent print in AFIS doesn’t mean that you don’t
need to try again at a later date. Data files may change as new submissions may
be substituted for older ones. AFIS may plot new submissions significantly
different that earlier ones and you may in fact plot a new search differently or
set new search parameters and be more successful.
Don’t assume a criminal has prints on file or in the system. Being arrested and
booked doesn’t mean that a person was fingerprinted and/or that their
fingerprints were entered into the system. Even if it’s a felony, even if the
state involved says there are prints on file…for various reasons, the arrest
prints may not exist. You can’t hit what isn’t there.
A miss does not always mean the criminal has no prints on file or in the
system. The latent print may miss due to quality control issues with the
Oh yeah…. and most obvious and yet the cause of a great many misses, a lot of
tenprints (inked or livescan) and therefore also AFIS known prints are of worse
quality that any latent you will ever declare to be “of value for
There are many more observations that I have made in this incarnation, and
because of them I am a much better and more enlightened examiner…I hope that by
sharing this cautionary tale of a spurious “known” fingerprint, that a greater
awareness of the potential pitfalls will help other examiners on their latent
path through the fingerprint forest.
Good hunting and good Karma.
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