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Monday, October 8, 2001

Welcome to the tenth "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets you 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.

Let's keep the overseas troops and our citizens in our thoughts and prayers this week, as it has the potential to become a very scary time for everyone.

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

About 60 SCAFO latent print-related articles are now organized and available on the Articles page.  These comprise articles by authors (alphabetically) A-L on the Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers bibliography which have been scanned and placed on the SCAFO site.  The articles were made available by SCAFO, copied and organized for the CLPEX Articles page by Mary Drews, and updated on the site this week.  Other webmasters, please feel free to link directly to this page.  Thank you to all persons whose efforts have lead to the direct, "one-click" availability of these articles for latent print examiners!  Look for M-Z to be available soon!

Here is an interesting article... Brain Fingerprinting? Thanks to David Hyde from Texas for this submission

Congrats Footwearman55 for winning last week's BidNow item!

HELP A FELLOW PROFESSIONAL! (and satisfy your curiosity)
Ever wonder about what percentage of local and/or county departments hire civilian examiners?  Now YOU can help find out.  (Survey completed and the results are in Detail 11)  I received a call for help from a former student who is in quite a predicament... Read a portion of the e-mail I received:

Would you be willing to write a letter for me explaining to the XXXXX Police Department that most (I'm not sure if that is true) agencies have now realized that civilians are in fact able to do latent prints. I'm trying to explain to them that I am not trying to replace them but instead integrate civilians into the lab. XXXXXX allows only sworn personnel to work in the Latent Print section of the crime lab. My agency has just hit the 70's in their way of thinking and in the equipment they provide us. I'm desperately trying to convince them that you DO NOT Have to carry a gun and wear a badge to compare latent prints. Recently one of the Detectives retired and there was an opening. I was the only civilian to put in a letter requesting an interview. I know for a fact that I had more training and education in latent prints than any of the officers that applied. The officer they finally hired decided he would rather be in crime scenes so that still leaves the latent print section short staffed. I'm desperate and don't know what else to do. I've met with (Cheese), (Bigger Cheese), and even the (Head Cheese) and I am getting nowhere. Let me know if you can help me, please.

I have set up a Discussion on the board for those wishing to comment on the subject of civilian / sworn latent print examiners.  Perhaps these comments could be utilized by our colleague or others who find themselves is in this situation.


We are currently in the middle of a series of Details regarding whether or not the principles and methodologies of friction ridge skin analysis constitute scientific practice.  As we saw last week, friction ridge skin is unique because biology never produces two identical items; on any level.   Visit the CLPEX.com archives page for the entire article.

This week we are addressing whether or not fingerprint examination is subjective and unverifiable with no standards to prevent error.  These elements can be addressed by realizing what it is we are actually doing when we compare prints.

The ACE-V methodology defines exactly that.  It breaks down into phases what every latent print examiner actually does when comparing two prints, whether or not he/she defines it using these exact words.  By understanding the differences between each of these phases, Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation and Verification, a latent print examiner can consciously realize that he/she follows a systematic and objective methodology.

ANALYSIS: Ashbaugh defines the analysis phase of the identification process as an "intelligence gathering process, where one learns as much about the latent print as possible."  By it's very definition, this phase is limited to an observation to the detail (or sometimes the utter LACK of detail) in the latent print.  Sometimes a thorough analysis of a latent print, which was thought to contain sufficient detail for comparison purposes, reveals certain things which render it unsuitable.  The analysis of some latent prints takes no longer than a few moments.  Other analyses may take hours.  For most latent prints, factors to be considered during the analysis phase include substrate (surface) distortion, matrix (sweat, blood, etc...) distortion, pressure distortion, clarity, ridge path configuration, and anatomical features. (Ashbaugh, Qualitative-Quantitative Friction Ridge Skin Analysis)  The Analysis phase is, by its very nature, completely objective.

COMPARISON: Ashbaugh also explains that the comparison process is completely objective, involving analyzing the unclear print first, and comparing that mental image to the clear image.  This should be conducted in such a way as to prevent mindset to insure that someone else conducting the examination would see the same things within the print that you are seeing and comparing.  During the comparison, the unit relationship and/or relative position details are mentally or physically measured.  This is done sequentially, spatially, and configuratively.  (is that a word?)  Comparison is also done on three levels of detail: First - Ridge flow, Second - Ridge path, and Third, Ridge shape.

EVALUATION: During the evaluation phase of the identification methodology, the examiner answers the question, "Is there sufficient uniqueness in agreement in both prints in order to individualize."  The quality and quantity of detail within each image is taken into account as this philosophy of identification is addressed.  There are three possibilities that result from an evaluation: (1) Elimination (2) Individualization (3) Insufficient uniqueness to individualize.  Since the unknown print was left by one and only one source, these are the only three possible conclusions.  Portions of the evaluation process involve the ability of the examiner, and therefore are subjective.  But the majority of this and every other phase of the identification process are such that objectivity can easily be maintained by the examiner who makes the concious effort to define and practice the ACE methodology.

VERIFICATION: The last portion of the latent print methodology addresses concerns regarding the verifiability and error prevention measures in latent print examination.  The last step is that of verification, or having another examiner analyze, compare, and evaluate the two prints.   Two competent and able latent print examiners following all three steps of the ACE process will reach the same conclusion.  This speaks for the over-all objectivity of the entire examination process and addresses the issue of built-in safeguards that prevent error.

Other safeguards that exist to prevent error include QA/QC procedures and directives, proficiency testing, examiner (IAI) certification, agency (ASCLAD) certification, and simply following good laboratory procedures.  Further education regarding the philosophy and methodology of latent print examination and their foundation in ridgeology are addressed by many of the courses and workshops on the Training page of this site.  These and other educational opportunities allow the examiner to more fully understand and implement the the methodology of the identification process into the science of latent print examination.

Next week we will be looking at whether identifications of partial, distorted latent prints is reliable and/or tested.

If you would like to add to the concepts represented in this Detail, please make your way to the discussion forum and express your viewpoints.  There are many other ways to address this issue, and there are contradictory viewpoints to those represented herein.  Please feel free to express those opinions, because it is that discussion that promotes thinking which leads to understanding and being able to defend ones viewpoints.  Check back throughout the day and see what others are saying.

If you would like to contribute to the Detail next week on distorted fragments, drop me a note!

ONE copy of Finger Prints, Palms and Soles (Cummins and Midlo, 1946) currently exists on the internet (to my knowledge), and has been made exclusively available in the CLPEX bookstore. $95 ex lib. hardcover in very good condition!  (first e-mail gets it!)  Receipt provided with order for agency reimbursement, if applicable.

Feel free to pass the link to The Detail along to other examiners. This is a free service FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are no copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open for all to visit.

If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox, go ahead and join the list now so you don't miss out!

Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!


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