T  H  E      D  E  T  A  I  L

The Detail Archives

Discuss This Issue

Subscribe to The Detail


Monday, September 23, 2002

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac

UK Police Can Keep All Prints and DNA - THE TIMES - Sept. 13, 2002 ...police in the UK won the right to keep DNA samples and fingerprints from un-convicted suspects...

Records, Fingerprints Stockpiled at W.Va. Site - THE BALTIMORE SUN - Sept. 15, 2002 ...since 9/11, sharp rise in quick police access to FBI criminal data...

Scotland's Justice Minister Under Fire for Casting Doubts on Fingerprints - THE SCOTSMAN - Sept. 18, 2002 ...Jim Wallace suggests that fingerprinting is an art form and not an exact science...

Wallace Stands Firm Over Fingerprint Claim THE SCOTSMAN - Sept. 19, 2002 ...Scotland's justice minister refused to back down, in the wake of controversy over his claim that fingerprinting is not an exact science...

Good morning via the "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets latent print examiners around the globe 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.

FINALLY HERE:   Last week, I mentioned that the Advanced Latent PhotoShop Demonstrations course was in the works for California.  It has been confirmed for November 23, 24, and 25 in the San Bernardino area.  Rooms must be reserved at the La Quinta inn in Ontario, California by 11-08-02 to qualify for the block room rate of $89  per night plus tax (for up to 4 guests per room at the same rate).  The first step is reserving your seat in the course, as response has been overwhelming, there is limited seating,  and we are expecting a packed house.  Contact Bonnie at FITS to register and secure your seat today!  (888-235-1230 or e-mail bonnie@foridents.com)  For those traveling to attend, the nearest airport is Ontario International, and the hotel is very close to the airport.  Our course host, Jim Nursall, recommends Ontario over LAX.  Maps and details will be available to those who register.  For more details on the course, visit the Training page of the website and click on the new entry: Advanced Latent PhotoShop Demonstrations.

Many of you were present at the IAI conference in Vegas when the VanDam print (done in PhotoShop) was presented.  I told the packed house that I would make available the video tape of the Adobe PhotoShop presentation by Pat Wertheim in court.   If you were not present, this video shows the court testimony of the original latent print examiner, Jeffrey Graham Jr., Pat Wertheim's testimony showing the presentation of the PhotoShop demonstration I provided, and the Court TV commentary on this testimony.  Complete case details will be added to the new VanDam page of the website soon.  However, you may now order your own copy of the video from Connections Unlimited, a company here in Meridian, who will copy the tape and mail it within the U.S. for $10.  I am sure they would work out international shipping also.  Simply contact Harvey Scott via e-mail at CU6777@aol.com and request a copy of the Fingerprint video.  Be sure to include your name, e-mail,  and shipping address, and advise him that payment is on the way.  Send the $10 to: Harvey Scott, 2440 N. Hills Street, Meridian, MS,  39305.  He is offering an unconditional $ back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied.  You may also telephone Harvey at (601) 485-6777 with a credit card or send a check or money order to that street address with order details.

Last week, we looked at the second article in a series from Glenn Langenburg on defending against the critic, Professor James Starrs.  We will continue this series next week with the final article on Dr. David Stoney.  The entire three-part article will be archived in the "Legal" section of the "Articles" page of this site, as well as in the Archive section of the Weekly Detail.  This week, we take a break from the series to look a little closer at a news article that some of you have already seen circulating via e-mail over the last week.  I received the first e-mail with a link to this article last Friday, and decided NOT to put it in the Detail last week because I didn't have all the facts.  I am glad I waited, because the whole story wasn't told by that news article and a subsequent news article in a different State.

Do you ever wonder why there are so many policies and procedures regulating some of the things we do? Do you become frustrated that there are so many standards and methods, formulas and processes that we have to follow? There are SWGFAST recommended standards, ASCLD standards, IAI recommendations. There is department policy, agency procedures, and bureau policy and laboratory procedures. Does the library of policy and procedure guidelines seem to overwhelm you? Do you feel like all these policies and procedures bog you down with paperwork and greatly increase the time it takes to complete each case?

While some of these procedures may seem to be self-perpetuating and appear to have no purpose, the importance of following policy and procedure is occasionally reinforced through certain unfortunate sets of circumstances. A recent case in the Western United States demonstrates the consequences involved in a series of events all lining up and certain procedures not being followed.

A body of a woman was found out in the desert near Las Vegas, Nevada. The body was badly decomposed and some of the only clues present in helping to identify the body were general physical description and a rose tattoo. After some skin restoration using tissue builder, a single inked thumb print of value was obtained from the body.

Detectives and the coroner's office investigators came up with a number of possible individuals from listings of missing persons all over the West. From time to time, they obtained sets of fingerprints and brought them to Las Vegas Metro's Fingerprint (ten-print) section for preliminary comparisons in an attempt to identify the dead woman. All of these attempts proved negative.

Then LVMPD detectives developed a lead on a possible missing person out of California, near Santa Rosa, that matched the physical description and the tattoo. The California Sheriff's Office faxed a copy of her fingerprint card to the LVMPD detective on this case. He took the fax and the fingerprint from the body to a personal friend and helpful employee with about 25 years of ten-print experience who, although not involved in comparisons within the 10-print section, had been helping the coroner's office make identifications for many years. This employee, a LEST (Law Enforcement Support Technician) Supervisor, who works in the Convicted Person Registration section, made a comparison of the fax with the autopsy print and decided that they were the same person. This set in motion a bizarre set of circumstances that resulted in a woman planning the funeral of a daughter that was later discovered alive.

When the mother of the missing Santa Rosa subject was notified of the death of her daughter she at first protested but eventually accepted that her daughter was dead and set about making funeral plans. Then when a routine computer entry regarding the death of the woman was made a red flag appeared. The missing person entry was marked as "found." Apparently a Santa Rosa police officer had recently (after the discovery of the body) stopped the missing woman and a report was made of the stop. Naturally, this developed many questions as to the identity of the dead body.

After receiving this information, the LVMPD homicide detective obtained a mailed copy of the set of fingerprints from California and took them back to the the Technician who had made the original identification for a re-examination of the prints. She declared that the ten-prints and the autopsy print did NOT match. Noticing the reluctance on the face of the detective, she advised him to also take the prints to the LVMPD Forensic Laboratory, specifically the Latent Print Unit. After a comparison, the LVMPD Latent Print Examiner confirmed for the detective that indeed the prints were not made by the same individual.

The detective then had to notify the family that the body was not that of their daughter. This notification was made very close to the day of the funeral. Subsequently, the daughter was located in a homeless shelter in Santa Rosa, California, very much alive. Naturally, the local California newspapers picked up the story:

Upon analysis, some of the extenuating circumstances that came into play in this case are: the use of faxed known prints, a poor quality autopsy print, only one autopsy fingerprint available, the physical similarities of the woman to that of the dead body, similarities of the fingerprints themselves, the methods of making victim eliminations and the form of notification for fingerprint identifications.

By following SWGFAST and other recommendations, almost every latent print unit has a formalized verification process for every identification and most Ten-print units follows suit. LVMPD is no exception. The supervisor of LVMPD's AFIS section advises that upon every ten-print identification, a file is opened containing copies of both sets of prints, any local record computer printouts and a report (or letter) of notification of the identification listing the additional person verifying the identification. The AFIS section, while also charged with AFIS administration, regularly conducts ten-print comparisons assisting other agencies with identifying individuals.

Most agencies also have policies regarding the use of fax copies to make identifications. It is not usually a good practice, though some fax machines finally have the technology to produce fairly good copies.  Some agencies give the examiner the discretion to request a photocopy of a set of fingerprints before issuing a notification of identification.

A complication that is not usually addressed in policy and procedures is the pressure put upon the examiner by detectives and district attorneys. While there is no direct indication that this happened in this case, it is certainly a training issue to warn new examiners not to succumb to any pressure brought about by detectives. It may even be necessary to postpone requesting officer notification until after they have left the office and the identification has been verified. There are many anecdotes about detectives saying "I know this is the guy, I just want to be sure" and "could you just give me a quick positive on this so I can arrest this guy." These are the phrases that veteran examiners have learned to ignore and continue to follow procedures such as verification before making any notifications of identifications.

Another anomaly that fingerprint examiners need to be aware of is the tendency to treat victim eliminations differently. There is a propensity to accept victim eliminations or ten-print comparisons without a through examination of the fingerprint, after finding only a few corresponding features in agreement and not "running the ridges" and examining all the available data in the fingerprint. This is especially dangerous when using poor quality or smudged fingerprints.

Some of the procedures that must be followed when making fingerprint identifications are the verification process, and the formal report or notification process. These procedures should apply to all identifications including ten-print to ten-print, victim elimination. Additionally, the restriction of the use of fax prints should be addressed and the quality of the autopsy prints should be considered.

Many times, certain aspects of the policy and procedure library can help rather than hinder. They generally serve to protect individuals and certainly can prevent unwanted or unforeseen complications that may arise during the course of agency business. As latent print examiners, we should recognize the importance of policy and procedure and take appropriate measures to operate within those standards on a daily basis.

I feel that it is appropriate to commend the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the examiner in question for admitting that an erroneous identification was made, being open and honest about the reasons behind the mistake, and using the situation as a tool to learn rather than doing as some agencies have done in the past and ignore the problem. I have the utmost confidence that all the circumstances that lined up just right have been considered, and the situation is being used in as positive a manner as possible.

To contrast this situation, the examiners from the SCRO still maintain that the latent print on the door frame inside the home of Marion Ross was the print of Shirley McKie, and their agency still defends them. Another petition has been given to the Scottish Parliament with the intent of an independent review of the case to be performed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, namely David Ashbaugh. Details below are from a recent message board post by Iain McKie.

On 19 September Allan Bayle and Michael Russell, Shirley's Member of the Scottish Parliament, handed in a unique petition to the Scottish Parliament on behalf of Allan, David Grieve, Pat Wertheim and Arie Zeelenberg.

In the petition, shown in full below, they stated that the current SCRO controversy is,

'…..threatening to the reputation and integrity of Scottish fingerprint and forensic evidence, damaging to the science of fingerprinting world-wide and has the potential to seriously and adversely impact on the administration and fair delivery of justice in Scotland.'

The experts believe that the SCRO is using the fiction that,

'…..fingerprint evidence is a matter of opinion……to cover up errors by experts within the SCRO.'

They have asked the Scottish Parliament to call on the services of Canadian expert David Ashbaugh to examine the situation and,

'….. to outline what lessons can be learned regarding openness and accountability within the Scottish Criminal Records Office and how procedures for handling mistakes as outlined in recommendations of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary enquiry can best be developed'.

In an interesting development the day before the petition was delivered the Scottish Minister for Justice, in giving evidence to the Justice Committee, stated,

'Fingerprint evidence is not an exact science. There is an 'art form' there, it is a skill that does involve judgement that can't be broken down to an exact science.'

This comment was widely attacked politically for undermining the forensic sciences and being an attempt to support the SCRO contention that fingerprinting is a matter of opinion and not a science. (see news reports below)

The Minister was also attacked for failing to respond to the June petition signed by over 150 world experts who had pointed out the need for remedial action at SCRO..

Australian ABC TV is screening the first BBC 'Panorama' programme, 'The Finger of Suspicion', on Monday 23 September at 8.30pm Australian time. It will be followed by an internet debate at 9:30pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time - 12.30pm UK time.)If interested in further information log on to: http://abc.net.au/4corners/

Petition to the Scottish Parliament.

Review of openness, transparency and the admission of mistakes at the Scottish Criminal Records Office.

We the undersigned work as professionals in the field of fingerprint identification.

We believe that the current position adopted by the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) to support their erroneous fingerprint identifications in the cases of Shirley McKie and David Asbury, that - "fingerprint evidence is a matter of opinion" - is unique in the world.

This position, as articulated during and after the court cases, is untenable, even in the medium term, threatening to the reputation and integrity of Scottish fingerprint and forensic evidence, damaging to the science of fingerprinting world-wide and has the potential to seriously and adversely impact on the administration and fair delivery of justice in Scotland.

While we believe that this position has been wrongfully used to cover up errors by experts within the SCRO its most important impact is to distract from proper action as proposed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in the 2000 Primary Inspection Report on the Fingerprint Bureau of the Scottish Criminal Record Office in respect of restoring openness and accountability and instituting effective procedures for the handling of mistakes.

We maintain that such restorative action is not possible until there has been an honest admission of previous errors.

We do not believe that such a situation should be allowed to continue unchallenged and therefore have decided to petition the Scottish Parliament on the matter in order to respectfully suggest that the Parliament's Petitions Committee or some other Committee of the Parliament undertake an enquiry into the topic to seek definitive evidence and information on the issues we raise.

We know that there is huge international interest in these cases and the world-wide fingerprint community has discussed them many times and continues to exchange information on them.

We believe that the best way to resolve the matters we raise is to commission a fingerprint expert of world renown to examine them and therefore respectfully suggest that the relevant committee of the Scottish Parliament seeks the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to obtain the services of one of the world's foremost fingerprint experts, Staff Sergeant David Ashbaugh, in this regard.

The Scottish Parliament is also petitioned to commission Mr Ashbaugh to outline what lessons can be learned regarding openness and accountability within the Scottish Criminal Records Office and how procedures for handling mistakes as outlined in recommendations of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary enquiry can best be developed.

We append details of Mr Ashbaugh's unique qualifications and citations in the fingerprint world and we also attach details of our own qualifications and experience. We confirm that we are also happy to do everything in our power to facilitate the petitioned review.

……………………………………. 18 September 2002..
Allan J Bayle
Signed on behalf of the Petitioners

Allan J Bayle - United Kingdom
David Grieve - United States of America
Pat A. Wertheim - United States of America
Arie Zeelenberg - The Netherlands

Media Comment

Experts seek fingerprint inquiry

BBC: 19 September 2002.

International experts are demanding the Scottish Parliament hold an inquiry into fingerprinting.  The move follows comments by Justice Minister Jim Wallace that fingerprinting was an art form and "not an exact science".

Four leading forensic scientists - two from the USA, one from the Netherlands and one from England - have petitioned the Scottish Parliament calling for the inquiry.

They are asking the parliament to seek the services of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer David Ashbaugh, said to be one of the world's foremost experts in the field.

The Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) is accused of covering up errors by its staff and its attitude was preventing openness and accountability as recommended last year by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Allan Bayle, one of the petitioners and a former Scotland Yard fingerprint expert, said the SCRO had to "put its house in order". "They are still denying and saying it is only opinion," he said.

"It is not opinion. It's a fact in black and white. Either it is or it isn't or it's inconclusive, nothing else."

The petition was backed by Ian McKie, the father of former policewoman Shirley McKie whose case led to reforms in Scotland's fingerprint system. Mr. McKie said: "Quite bluntly if experts in DNA or any of the other forensic sciences did what the fingerprint experts did then these sciences would have absolutely no value at all."

Scottish National Party MSP for South of Scotland Mike Russell said the SCRO and Scottish justice were "becoming a laughing stock throughout the world".

In May, 160 experts from all over the world had signed an open letter to Mr Wallace to show the scale of international alarm over the issue.

He added: "Scotland has to get its house in order and the only way to do that now if the Scottish Executive will not do so, is to have an independent inquiry.
"We are suggesting the person who can undertake that is one of the world experts in fingerprinting and I hope the justice committee, if this is passed on, will treat that very seriously."

John McAllion, convener of the parliament's petitions committee, said it would be considered on 8 October and confirmed it was competent even though it had been submitted by non-Scots.

Daily Record - 20.9.02

DIM Jim Wallace faced fresh embarrassment yesterday when crimefighters from around the world demanded an inquiry into Scotland's fingerprinting system.

Four international experts petitioned the Scottish Parliament to demand an independent probe.

It follows Justice Minister Wallace's claim that fingerprinting was "an art form, not an exact science".

The experts - one from England, two from America and one from Holland - want Parliament to "call in the Mounties" to sort out the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO).

They accused the SCRO of claiming fingerprint evidence was a matter of opinion in a bid to "cover up errors" and they want an inquiry to be led by David Ashbaugh, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - one of the world's top fingerprint experts.

Their petition has been backed by Ian McKie, the father of former WPC Shirley McKie, whose case led to reforms of Scotland's fingerprint system. The Ayrshire officer was accused of perjury after she denied being at a crime scene where her fingerprints were found. Following a lengthy court battle, she won her case.

Former policeman Mr McKie warned yesterday: "We will be second or third rate in terms of forensic sciences until we sort this out." He added: "In Scotland, it is an art form - after all they created my daughter's fingerprints - but elsewhere in the world it is a science."

The petition was given to committee convener John McAllion yesterday by former Scotland Yard fingerprint expert Allen Bayle, who said the SCRO had to "put its house in order".

Nationalist MSP Mike Russell warned: "The SCRO is becoming a laughing stock. "How can the Scottish public, lawyers and the courts have any faith in the evidence they produce? "And how can they have confidence in the Justice Minister if he repeats their fictions?"


The informal CLPEX.com message board is available for banter about the Detail, and the onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent print-related discussions.


UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Added the Advanced Latent PhotoShop Demonstrations

Added the Advanced Latent PhotoShop Demonstrations

Feel free to pass 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!  (To join this free e-mail newsletter, send a blank e-mail to: theweeklydetail-subscribe@topica.email-publisher.com )  Members may unsubscribe at any time.

Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.

Have a GREAT week!