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Monday, January 20, 2003

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

EU Centralizes Asylum Seekers' Fingerprints - IRISH EXAMINER - Jan 14, 2003 ...European Union is introducing a new centralized fingerprinting database for all asylum seekers...

Fingerprint Evidence Introduced Against Malvo- THE SAN DIEGO CHANNEL - Jan. 14, 2003 ...prosecutors say fingerprint evidence links 17-year old sniper suspect to three fatal attacks...

Arrest Made in 1975 Slaying - THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN - Jan. 16, 2003 ...a check through the nationwide Automated Fingerprint Identification System found 'hit'...

Officer's Print on Leaked Report - THE HERALD NEWS, NJ - Jan. 17, 2003 ...fingerprint of a police officer was found on a confidential document which was sold to the press...

The Nose Knows - WPVI.COM  - Jan. 17, 2003 ...during a livestock show, identification via nose-printing is used because no two are alike...

Al-Qaeda Suspects Caught by INS with Prints From Cave - ARAB NEWS - Jan. 18, 2003 ...digitalized digits matched prints registered by US military and from documents found in Afghanistan caves...

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.

King Brown and Dawn Watkins will be the instructors at the following course in Orlando:                                                                           
Advanced Latent Fingerprint Recovery and Comparison                       
Public Safety Institute                                                   
Sheraton Orlando North                                                    
600 North Lake Destiny Drive                                              
Maitland, Florida 32751                                                   
Fax: 407-660-8165                                                         
Cost:  $525.00       
Web Link To flyer:

In response to Mr. Haber's interview on 60 Minutes which aired on January 5, Lyla Thompson, Secretary of the Latent Print Certification Board, felt compelled to clarify a few things in reference to latent print certification:  The over-all pass rate of latent print examiners taking the IAI Certification test is 51.8%.  This figure is derived from the number of applicants taking the test and passing it since the program began in 1977.  (recent years have brought this average up slightly, but it takes a fairly drastic change and also TIME to significantly increase an average over a quarter-century time period) To successfully achieve certification, an applicant must successfully pass all four parts of the test and not just the latent comparison part.  Part 1 is the latent print comparisons with a passing score of 80%.  To achieve a score of 80%, the applicant must successfully identify 12 of the 15 latent prints with no erroneous identifications.  If the remaining three latent prints are not marked, that is still a passing score, but even one erroneous identification will result in failure.  Part 2 is the pattern interpretation with a passing score of 90%.  Part 3 is the true/false, multiple choice with a passing score of 85%.  If an applicant successfully completes the first three parts of the test, then a case for review must be submitted for approval.  All four parts of the test must be successfully completed to be honored latent print certification.


Last week, we looked at Ralph Norman Haber's article, "Error Rates for Human Latent Print Examiners".  This week, we look at the content of a recent radio talk show on fingerprinting.  The week before last, I was contacted by the producer of the Mark Fuhrman radio talk show (out of Spokane, WA) to be on the program.  Several other examiners were contacted by myself, all of whom had concerns regarding how the program might quickly become hostile toward the fingerprint field, especially when they learned that Simon Cole was slated to be the other guest on the show.  Since contact for approval could not be made with the Public Relations division of my agency, I had to find someone else who could accept the invitation.  Pat Wertheim stepped up without reservation, as he had previously debated Simon Cole on international BBC radio, and felt confident in being able to handle any direction the show might turn.

I was able to contact a friend and colleague (LP Supervisor) with the Spokane County Sheriff's Department, who graciously agreed on short notice to tape record the show for me.  Thank you, Carrie Johnson!!

The format of the show turned out to be educational in nature, rather than hostile.  The first hour was a question and answer period between the host and Professor Cole, and the second hour was a question and answer period between the host and Pat Wertheim.  Naturally, occupying the show segment following Professor Cole had the main benefit of being able to address previous issues with no possibility of an issue ending critically at a later time.

Fuhrman also turned out to be a fair and un-biased host, despite fears that the ex-LAPD Detective might be hostile toward a crime laboratory-oriented guest.  He asked relevant questions in an impartial manner, and allowed the issue to be fully discussed without unnecessary interruption.  Over-all, the program was very educational to listeners and portrayed fingerprint examination in the positive light it deserves.

The show began with a question from Fuhrman as to why Cole wrote his book, to which Cole answered that fingerprints were not subjected to the same testing that DNA has recently been put through.  He elaborated that fingerprinting is a skilled observation based on experience, but that doesn't make it "science."

When asked how fingerprints are identified, Cole responded by correctly laying the groundwork: that no two fingerprints are alike.  He also elaborated that no two impressions are ever alike because of distortion.  "So what fingerprint examiners are doing," says Cole, "is taking two different images and coming to a conclusion that they were made by the same source."  After posing the question, "how do they come to a conclusion," Cole answered his own question by referring to the 'old days,' and having to have a certain number of points in agreement to declare a match.  But of course, he also threw in that today, there are no standards.

Fuhrman asked "so how do we know that no two fingerprints are the same," to which Cole responded "historically, nobody has ever seen two the same," and he followed the question with a question of his own: "but what do you mean by the same?"  He elaborated that they could be similar, and that one tiny difference would mean that they are not the same.  Philosophically, he said, "No... but the question is realistically... can two fingerprints be similar enough to fool a fingerprint examiner."  He ended his commentary with something to the effect of "and we know there are those types of prints out there."  When the Richard Jackson case (the erroneous identification recently featured on 60 minutes) was brought up later in the show, Cole used it as an example "that illustrates the point that fingerprints can be similar enough for examiners to make dreadful mistakes."

"Will clones share the same fingerprints?" asked Fuhrman.  Cole responded, "As far as we know, they will be different..." and emphasized that pattern is influenced by genetics while fine variations are subject to environmental differences in the womb and pressure.  He ended with the fact that because developing skin is subjected to random processes, the fingerprints of clones will probably be as different as the fingerprints of identical twins.

Several questions were asked about AFIS, culminating in a discussion of where the real problem lies in fingerprinting.  Cole correctly related that fingerprints themselves were not the culprit; that it is unlikely that the cause of erroneous identifications are identical prints, rather that humans cause
identifications.  "The process is humans making matches."  says Cole.  "If humans are fallible, the system is fallible." he ended.

Throughout the show, Fuhrman kept bringing up the concept that the increase in technology over the last decade or two has brought about a
attitude on the part of investigators in relying too much on forensics to solve the crime.  Cole used this time to make some pointed remarks toward the shift of training from classification to latent prints.  "The training ground used to be classification," Cole stated.  "Classification is now done by computers, and that training ground isn't here anymore.  The FBI is now training directly without classification... it will be interesting to see how that works out."  He failed to mention that the Illinois State Police have had excellent results with this method for several decades.

An interesting discussion also ensued regarding biased.  Fuhrman posed the question, "would the influence of an investigator bringing a suspect to the examiner offer a possible reason for some erroneous idents?"  Cole elaborated on a scenario: The first examiner makes an error - the second examiner is biased into claiming a match.  Perhaps the first examiner is skewed by the mindset of the investigator already having the prints of a suspect, the second examiner by the first, etc.  Fuhrman brought out speculation that the scenario would violate the definition of science because it was not a 'blind' study, to which Cole elaborated that "real science acknowledges perceptual bias - but they take steps to minimize that bias.  Fingerprint examiners do not."

Fuhrman asked, "When you wrote your book, did you have a pro/con position on fingerprinting in the courtroom?"  Cole replied that since courts have not demanded that fingerprinting declare its accuracy, so therefore we don't know.  Fuhrman suggested that a judge has made no such statement because he would have been inundated with appeals.  Cole stated that in fact there was such a judge that made a statement, but that "he apparently came under pressure and reversed his decision."  Cole also threw in that "until latent print examiners are punished in that way, (declaring the accuracy of fingerprinting) won't happen.

Fuhrman brought up that the IAI is "the body" for fingerprinting, yet half of all fingerprint examiners aren't even certified... that there is no national requirement... that analysts are examined based on their qualifications.  Cole pointed out that "if the courts aren't demanding it, why do it?"

In concluding the first hour, Fuhrman asked Cole's opinion as to what he thinks will happen to fingerprinting... will it be a "quiet passing?"  Cole replied, "My prediction as a historian is that we are seeing the beginning of a transition into a new system of identification." (DNA)

The second hour began with a question to Pat: "So, what do you think of what Professor Cole had to say?"  After the courteous "I agree with most everything he had to say" statement (there is a fine balance between saying what you think... and not alienating the audience) Pat launched into an excellent clarification (similar to what we have seen in past Details) on Forensic Science versus "Pure" science.

Fuhrman brought up the issue of "points," and how many points does it take to make an identification, and Pat launched into a well-balanced history of the point standard, starting with Galton coining the term "Point".  It was emphasized that since then researchers have refined the mathematical point-based models, and the example was given that AFIS systems use algorithms based on a refined version of Galtons crude model.  But it was quickly clarified that the human brain relies on much more than just points... that it takes into account the fine levels of detail in a pristine versus a fuzzy print, resulting in a quantitative / qualitative assessment.

I shuddered when Pat answered the question "how do we know no two people have the same fingerprints" with the reply "we can't say absolutely."  (SIDE NOTE FOLLOWS:  But I guess in the most strict sense of the term absolute, he holds the same opinion that most scientists would.  I still like to think of biological uniqueness as absolute, but everyone keeps relating seemingly conflicting truths: "Absolutely nothing in nature is exactly the same" and "Nothing is absolute."  Think about that one three times real fast.  ha ha.  Discussion Board Frequenters: LET'S DISCUSS!!!  :)  but beware of the discussion board banner ads... they are getting bigger!  I may have to switch to an embedded message board soon.  Enough rambling... SIDE NOTE ENDS)  He continued with biological uniqueness: "Babler is the definitive author - the plethora of factors including random stress, pressure, etc. is too great."  He ended with the words of Champod, properly credited: that "you can't say absolutely... but the chances of that happening are so infinitesimally small that you can completely disregard it."

"Then why are we in the situation of having erroneous identifications?" asked Fuhrman.  "The problem," Pat stated, "is that the U.S. has no training standards.  The Chief can come in one day and say 'hey, Mark!... we need a fingerprint expert... go to this 40 hour course and get to work!'".  He emphasized that we are the only country that does it this way... the UK has a 3-5 year modular training program, New Zealand requires 5 years of training before casework... that we are so far below the average it's not even funny.  He did clarify that some U.S. agencies who DO want to do things right have outstanding programs, but that it is not the average.  And the US can't require those types of training standards because of the numerous local and county departments across the nation.  The countries where that works have only a few police departments.  Further commentary regarding erroneous identifications included factors in the 60 minutes program that were not mentioned.  Pat argued that an ethical prosecutor who is presented with two retired FBI examiners saying it is NOT a match, should take a step back and say 'wait a minute.'  Further, a Jury hearing testimony from 3 witness that it is a match and 2 that it isn't, should be screaming "reasonable doubt!"

When asked about forensic science and subjectivity, Pat opined that the entire field of forensic science should be unrelated to the police.  "Perhaps it should be a function of the courts," he said, and he followed that with "A good crime lab will have strict policy that officers are not to be present when examinations are conducted."

Fuhrman did give his viewpoints on jury intelligence: that jurors are just normal people... except they aren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

When asked if DNA would replace fingerprints, Pat explained it well: "If you get a new wrench for your toolbox, you don't throw away all your old wrenches.  You keep them, and the fact is you will have instances when the old wrench fits better, and you will have instances where the new wrench fits better.  That's what DNA and fingerprint are... they are tools.  One won't replace the other; both will be utilized."

Fuhrman inquired how it was possible for a detective to rely on fingerprints being the only evidence in the case.  Pat mentioned that one problem is that many detectives see fingerprints as a way to catch bad guys, not to clear innocent people.  They view the science in a totally different way than non-law enforcement examiners.  "So, if there is an extremely small percentage of abuse in this field, will defense attorney's raising this issue create reasonable doubt?"  Pat replied emphatically, "The opposite is true!... defense attorney's don't raise the issues enough."  He elaborated that as a latent print examiner, if you aren't able to defend against an attack, maybe the evidence wasn't so good in the first place.  The problem is that the defense will usually encourage the defendant to plead guilty, or won't ask questions of the latent print examiner.  And of course, they could always hire their own expert to look at the print.

Do you have input on this topic?

To discuss this issue or other fingerprint related topics, visit the informal CLPEX.com message board at http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2
As usual, the onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent print-related discussions.


I received a link to a HILARIOUS website last week, and it inspired me to create a new section of the Weekly Detail for these funny finds.  I was thinking about calling the section "Funny Fingerprint Finds", but I would entertain suggestions for the name of this section.  I know you have probably been surfing the internet at some point and come across some off-the-wall comment about fingerprints.  THIS is the column to submit it to!!  Next time you find something, copy the text and paste it in an e-mail to me with 1) the date and 2) the internet address (pasted directly from the browser bar when you are on the page, and pasted into the e-mail also.  I'm looking for Weird, Crazy, Senseless, FUNNY stuff.  Here is one of the examples sent to me this week.  Thank you to Laura Watts for our first submission, and for inspiring the weekly column, FUNNY FINGERPRINT FINDS

Your fingerprint depends on your age and gender and how it can change a loop to a double loop in a mater of 70 years.

copied on 1-14-03

HEY... It's on the internet... it must be true, right!?!  

UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Updated the Detail Archives

Updated the Newzroom

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

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

Have a GREAT week!