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Testimony touches on fingerprint
Topeka Capital Journal 08-11-09
Sanders, a fingerprint examiner, testified during
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A. Williams, 21, and Drake A. Kettler, 26, ...
Corte Madera man exonerated in bank robbery
Contra Costa Times 08-11-09
Using surveillance photos and fingerprints left on
the demand note, Twin Cities police identified Scott
Randal Hall, who lives half a mile from the bank,
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IAI Conference Topics -
Tampa Bay, Florida - 2009:
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Documentation issues as they apply to latent prints
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Historical topics related to latent print examination
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dated the Detail Archives
We looked at the SWGFAST position statement
regarding the NAS report. It is
available on the SWGFAST website: (http://www.swgfast.org)
We look a CLPEX.com forum post regarding the
convergence of the tenprint and latent print communities.
From The Really Old Guy and his
By Richard Reneau, CLPE
This article is from one of the “old guys” currently involved in
identification (or is it individualization) of fingerprints (and palms
and plantar surface of the feet, to be accurate). It is not meant to be
a scholarly treatise of the science or even a wise, solemn, assessment
of where the science is. It is from a person who over the last 39+ years
has been practicing the profession -- from a person who has lived it not
just studied the historical record.
The following is not the message but just a recap of the centuries
before I became involved -- the message will come briefly at the end.
For a first hand report of the centuries before me, please contact
others still practicing in the field.
The realization that man(kind) has patterned ridges on his hand
pre-dates the Christian era by many centuries. As time passed,
developing civilizations noted these patterned ridges in various ways.
For instance, on the face of a cliff in Nova Scotia an illustration
exists of a hand showing crude representations of friction ridges. The
Chinese also recognized the value of friction ridges on the fingers;
documents in the eight century of the T’ang dynasty note that
fingerprints were impressed on business contracts.
SCHOLARY WONDERMENT AND THE SCIENCE OF FINGEPRINTS:
The arguable start of the science of fingerprints was around 1684 when
Nehemia Grew, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, commented on
fingerprints during the course of lecturing.
Moving to a much later period, many other identification methods were
being developed also as the science of fingerprints emerged. Most
notably are the Bertillon system of anthropological body measurement and
facial photographs. Each of these methods was employed on a limited
basis until circa 1904 in Leavenworth, Kansas. There the famous case of
William West took place. At that time the fallibility of the photograph,
the anthropological measurement system (Bertillon method) and name
matches were discovered. The event itself showed the emerging profession
something, but as usual it took a while to realize the real
No surprises yet!
Finally, law enforcement, specifically the fingerprint profession,
progressed into the space age. Considering the wide-spread application
of Electronic Data Processing (EDP), it was only a matter of time until
the technology could be applied to dactylography.
Much of the beginnings on automating fingerprints were accomplished by
the FBI. In 1963, the FBI consulted the National Bureau of Standards
(NBS – now the National Institute of standards and technology or NIST).
The study concluded that automation was feasible, and further provided
an analysis of the current technologies available. The three
technologies available at that time were:
(1) Continued to allow fingerprint technicians to classify, then place
the classes into a computer for future use.
(2) Optical correlation by overlapping two prints and comparing global
(3) Digital imaging by scanning the print and extracting identifying
As I recall (from talking to the really “old Guys” in the coffee shop,
of course), and as an aside, the FBI had to make this an ongoing project
for a while until the technology could mature into what was needed.
The first choice was rejected because the process still remained labor
intensive and would have resulted in even more that the 1400 fingerprint
technicians already employed. The second choice was reviewed only to
find that optical correlation did not have sufficient selectiveness to
be feasible for the large number of existing records.
The FBI then narrowed the choices to digital imaging developments. In
1967, contracts were awarded to Coronell Aeronautical Laboratories Inc.
(which became Calspan Corp. and later, wasn’t heard from much) and
Autonetics Group of Rockwell International Corp. (which was sold to
Dalarue of London, sold to a management group, sold to Motorola, sold to
Morpho) for engineering. Significant results were obtained by 1969 and
further developments proceeded (development costs from 1971-1977 were a
mere $21,535,700, by current spending standards a real bargain).
It is important to note that much of the original FBI research was done
with the idea of using the technology for classifying and searching
ten-print “cards.” For in this way, the FBI could reduce the tremendous
labor cost associated with manual processing (and possibly improve
accuracy). Also important is the fact that the research proved
successful and the FBI even today still uses these systems (currently,
more appropriately, grandchildren of these systems), with a
corresponding labor force reduction to approximately 300 (I originally
wrote this circa 1987, today the numbers might be slightly different).
The first prototype fingerprint system developed was called “FINDER.” A
system I remember viewing in FBI DIVISION #1, when I worked there. The
future at that time was rather “clunky” by today’s standards and
utilized a concept of a “flying Spot Scanner” to extract minutiae. The
“flying spot scanner” used a narrow beam of light to scan a fingerprint
one at a time and note variations of the print (black) against the
background (white) of the card, thus giving rise to the ability of
detecting an ending ridge, etc. It is noteworthy that the detection of
minutiae happened on a fingerprint card and not by a picture in computer
memory which is “processed.” I remember seeing the process represented
as a movie which was produced to show all FBIers what the future looked
like (maybe we can get a copy from the archives and re-master it for
show and tell). Also, the profession started to get neat (also see
groovy) words like minutiae in its everyday vocabulary.
[NOTE: Much of the previous information from “Acknowledgement of Ridges”
to this point was gleaned from federal publications, published articles
and publications in which I was interviewed and now must quote someone
else as the originator. Such is life. In short, I have misplaced the
AUTOMATION GAINS TRACTION:
This is where my memory gets much better.
Emerging with the ten-print technology was another idea - The idea of
being able to take a latent found at the crime scene, search it, and
identify it out of an electronic data base. This idea was researched by
the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the San Jose Police
Department. Both agencies received an LEAA (Law Enforcement Assistance
Administration) grant to research the possibilities. Each of these
agencies received a prototype system from Rockwell International. Later,
California, DOJ, purchased a system which they utilized until the advent
of the State CAL-ID program. On the other hand, San Jose experienced
considerable contract problems and in October 1978 returned the system
and entered into litigation against Rockwell International (I know I was
there). The settlement resulted in San Jose obtaining a Printrak 250S
system from DeLarue Printrak.
With the success of the FBI and its partners, other companies soon began
developing/marketing systems for use in both of the newly defined areas
of automated fingerprint identification. Many of the smaller agencies,
by comparison these agencies could be very large but with a smaller
number of employees than the FBI, could not get the same cost reduction
that the FBI enjoyed for the ten-print process. So many prospective
vendors introduced the concept of the automated fingerprint systems
performing the “Big Four.” The big four functions were:
(1) Current arrest ten-print to a known ten-print data base.
(2) Current crime scene latent prints to a known ten-print data base
(prototypes appeared around 1977).
(3) Unknown latent to unknown latent searches.
(4) Current arrest ten-prints to a previously unsolved latent data base.
As the concept of Automation started gaining traction, a spate of
reports/studies etc. happened, first from California State (because
that’s where I am, or at least I think I am still in CA), then
“CAL-ID Remote Access Network Study” by Applied Systems, for the state
of CA, indicating work load and system placements. (I had to call
another really old guy to refresh my memory on this one.)
Direct Image Retrieval Report, “DIRS Subcommittee” of the CAL-ID
Operational Advisory Committee;
The “Status Report: CAL-Identification System and Remote Access Network
(RAN) for Calendar year 1987” (Second year of a five year report
mandated by the state legislature on the state of fingerprint
automation, after purchase);
The “Increasing Efficiency in the Criminal Justice System: The Use of
New Technology for the Criminal Identification and Latent print
Processing,” also known as the RAND report or the Ratkovic report (this
report is cited as the basis of fingerprint automation within
“The FBI Fingerprint Identification Automation Program: Issues and
Options, Background Paper, By the Office of Technology Assessment
Congressional Board of the 102nd Congress (November 1991), ISBN
The ANSI/NBS-ICST 1-1986 (and Prior and later) “Data format for the
Interchange of Fingerprint Information” for ANSI/NIST standard.
[NOTE: These are the ones I remember and participated in, maybe you can
recall others. These reports signify the birth of automation and the
following accountability after implementation.]
This approach by vendors to the emerging market and the studies,
provided managers and the profession with a methodology to perform cost
benefit analysis to justify the, then, high cost of start-up. In
California a study which was utilized by many was the “RAND” report (AKA
the Ratkovic report – yea, I was around for that one). Cost benefit was
established to the satisfaction of the legislature and the Attorney
General to the point of purchasing a state-wide Automated Fingerprint
Identification System application. Along with the state’s purchase, the
requisite political sausage produced by cities and counties resulted in
funds providing for the initial purchase of many other stand alone
systems throughout California.
AUTOMATION SEARCHES FOR SIGNIFICANCE BEYOND COST BENEFIT:
Circa 1985 automation was birthed, at least in California.
What is very interesting to note from the old guy’s perspective is that
much of the early “sales” of the Automated Fingerprint Identification
System (AFIS) centered around “hits” made from searching latent prints
in the system. AFIS capabilities as a crime fighting tool quickly
overshadowed its speed and accuracy of the ten-print searching and
identification abilities. The latent print function of the “Big four”
quickly captured the public’s attention on the news. For example, one of
these political sausages was the direct result of the automated systems
“hit” of the “Night stalker” case. It was all about getting your own
stand alone system at that point.
A central discussion I recall at the time was whether we should let the
crime fighting capability take the lead -- won’t wide-spread publicity
cause the criminal to stop leaving prints at the crime scenes. Since the
release of fingerprint information hasn’t stopped the criminal in the
last 100 years, it probably won’t stop now, we opined. How right we were
--backlogs are still growing. But I digress – back to the story.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH -- THE NATIONAL SCENE:
A curious situation was developing in which the profession would not
realize the true extent of the change for many years (sound familiar,
just like the William West). I recall speaking with Bob Hazen around
1984 about the changes now being dictated by management, Congress and a
weak profession not able to protect itself.
To wit, the reduction of the FBI work force from 1,400 to 300, the
changing job function and the problem associated with finding the
previous cream-of-the-crop-highly-qualified fingerprint professionals
ready to promote to latent print examination. Back in the early 1970s,
many in the FBI could not apply to latent prints without first having
completed 5 years in classifying and searching – 100’s to 1,000s to tens
of thousands to hundreds of thousands of comparisons of fingerprints,
day in and day out – whether it was the day after the night before or
not you had to perform.
Meanwhile, congressional budget allocations forced the FBI to change the
location of fingerprint operations and ultimately split the latent print
processes from the ten-print process. The separation was miles and
states apart. Also, many states and localities eventually followed suit.
So what! As we look back with objective professionalism we might note
that the physical bifurcation started manifesting as a divergence of
management and professional philosophy.
ZEAL FOR AUTOMATION MORPHS ATTITUDES:
Within the profession, we subconsciously considered the ten-print
personnel as being somewhat less than the “real professional” – the
latent print examiner. This philosophy has, in my opinion, given rise to
the concept of ten-print examination being a “clerical” function. And
has taken root in the different management styles and demands of the
ten-print examiner verses the latent print examiner.
It has been stated that the difference between the crime scene
investigator and the lab technician (who just develops or photographs)
is that the “experts” can and do make a comparison of the fingerprints
(friction ridge detail), then form an opinion and are therefore allowed
by the courts to render that opinion.
However, the ten-print personnel render opinions every day many, many
times about the identification of a person. Couple this with the concept
of the “clerical” function and the outcome can be seen as applying a
“best-eight-out-of-ten” approach to personnel. In this environment the
ten-print personnel can be seen as getting the last eight out of ten
correct answers – which is 80% -- a solid “B” average – this is good (a
little editorial license used here).
In the latent print environment, we expect a near 0% error rate or the
person may never be allowed to testify, even with just one mistake
committed over decades of experience. It seems, however, that the
disconnect between the fingerprint identification process of the
ten-print examiner and the fingerprint identification process utilized
by the latent print examiner is causing confusion about the whole
process of identification.
There is, of course, a difference between what the ten-print person does
and the latent print examiner. But there still can be a situation set
where a latent print lifted exhibits the same quality and quantity as a
rolled impression. In this situation any missed identification or
erroneous identification would be viewed with different criteria,
depending on whether the person was a latent print examiner or ten-print
Consistent treatment of the fingerprint identification process across
the spectrum can be used to moderate the confusion between the
fingerprint identification processes practiced by the different job
Another very interesting concept is that the court (or at least the
defense attorneys) has used ten-print errors committed by latent print
personnel as part of the “individual error rate.” I think the lines have
definitely blurred sufficiently to require movement in addressing this
Just looking around the “old Guy” is encouraged that SWGFAST is trying
to integrate the identification, training and documentation processes
for both ten-print and latent print comparison.
THE PESKY BRIEF MESSAGE:
At last the promised message which appears briefly at the end is here.
How many Daubet hearing have there been regarding the science of
fingerprints and the practice thereof?
A more interesting question, in this “old guy’s” observation, is how
many Daubert court challenges regarding the science of fingerprints are
based on the professions inability or ability to identify a person in a
The history lesson at the beginning and the progression to the science,
I hope, shows that there was never a conscious effort to consider a
difference between the identification process utilized by the ten-print
personnel and the latent print examiners.
The profession itself has created two different certification processes
administered by two different boards. Has the profession bought into the
same divergence of function process? Has this allowed the academic
community to “cut the latent print processes from the heard” so to
speak, so that print identification can be more effectively challenged
with the “divide and conquer” approach?
When automation is considered, it is important to note that the
automated systems and the matching algorithms were extracted from the
heads of many of us really “old guys” still practicing. And the truth be
known, automation is responsible for a good guestimate of about 75% of
the arrest and applicant identifications in the US, without a person
being involved (Known as “lights-out” arrest processing) – until
testimony or the identification is called into question.
The millions of identifications effected for those arrestees and
applicants each year and the tens of thousands crime scene
identifications effected each years are the same thing – the ability to
effectively identify someone through the friction ridge comparison
This is not to say that basic research is not needed or would not be
profitable; but the latent print community is not alone – there is an
industry of computer companies, ten-print examiners and latent print
examiners, who are all in this together.
The clock is ticking; but that is another story.
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other
examiners for Fair Use. This is a not-for-profit newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY
latent print examiners.
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