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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, February 23, 2004

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.

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

Bill Would Add Fingerprints to Driver's Licenses  - EVERETT HERALD, WA - Feb 22, 2004 ...state senators passed a bill that would allow the use fingerprints and high-tech means for identification...

Budding Forensic Scientist Gets Unique Career Boost - WINCHESTER STAR, VA  - Feb 19, 2004 a younger version of a CSI character, student flicks her wrist and dusts a fingerprint brush over a soda can, searching for prints...

Gun Used in Driver Slaying Had No Prints - EXPRESS TIMES, PA - Feb 18, 2004 ...except for a smudged palm print, police found no fingerprints on the shotgun...

Fingerprints Help Agents Find Man Deported for Life - SIERRA VISTA HERALD, AZ - Feb 14, 2004 ...fingerprinting of an illegal immigrant has again led to discovering a person who was deported after being convicted for sexual assault...


Last week, we looked at a few excerpts from an excellent article by Shaheen Bibi Aumeer regarding quality assurance.  This week we look at excerpts from an article by Sandra Wiese that touch on her perspectives regarding the philosophy and methodology of latent print identification.  I love the tag-line on the complete article (on "An Editorial Perspective Disguised as a Research Paper"  :) 


From Galton Points to ACE-V:
one examiner's journey

Northglenn Police Department, Colorado

Excerpts from the paper(The following paragraphs were extracted from the paper, and therefore may appear out of context.  The entire paper is available on in the Reference section under Identification Philosophy and Theory)

            Maybe the question shouldn’t be so much what is “sufficient,” but how the determination of “sufficiency” is in fact scientific.  The question here is always some variation of: If I use my judgment to determine sufficiency, then it is a somewhat arbitrary and subjective decision and therefore inconsistent with the idea that friction ridge identification is a science instead of an art.  I do believe that friction ridge identification is a science, not an art, but if I am going to testify to it, I have to be able to explain it and counter those people who came before me who have characterized it as an art.  Cowger writes that T. Dickerson Cooke, one of the most respected workers in this field, wrote in 1973 that, “Pronouncing that two friction skin impressions…were or were not made by the same area of friction skin is an art, not an exact science. It is entirely a matter of judgment based on training and experience (Cowger, 146-147).”

            How can I counter that on the stand?  Have I been led down the wrong path?  My confusion must be contagious and it may be spreading to the courts.  More than one defense attorney and more than one defense expert has attacked fingerprint evidence on this basis alone.  District Court Judge Michael had this to say in his dissenting opinion in U.S. v. Crisp:

 “One forensic expert (Stoney) contends that there are no standards; there are no minimum point requirements.  The movement away from point requirements ‘is not based on scientific study. (Epstein)’ and there is disparity in the field regarding the use of level 3 detail for id. (because of distortion) ‘One dissimilarity’ in two impressions is thought to be a universal standard, but if an examiner believes the prints match they explain away the difference rather than discounting the match. Verification is considered to be essential, but cases exist where no verification took place; and even verification that does take place is not independent and objective. All of this leads (Stoney and Cole) to the belief that ‘[t]he criteria for absolute identification in fingerprint work are subjective and ill-defined.’ (Wertheim/Weekly Detail 123)”

        Judge Michael was not convinced that friction ridge identification is a science under the rules of the court.  Although the previous excerpt was from a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael obviously feels strongly that the friction ridge identification field has not made its case and he is in a position to influence decisions in similar cases.  Perhaps James Cowger was a little overly optimistic when he wrote, “that this element of judgment exists as a necessary element of the comparison is certainly not seriously questioned (Cowger, 148).”

            I could find no explanation of how this judgment is not subjective or how this subjectivity relates to friction skin identification being a true science in any of the professional friction skin comparison sources.  So I took it a few steps outside the fingerprint realm to find my answers.  First, I looked up the terms “subjective” and “objective.”  All of the dictionaries I looked at basically broke down the differences as being dependent on personal feelings (subjective) or being independent of personal feelings (objective).  Fair enough.  Then I looked into what makes any study a science.  The most consistent litmus test seemed to be the application of the scientific method.  On to looking up what exactly constitutes the scientific method.  Guess what?  Scientific method does not include objectivity by definition in any reputable source I could find.  To me, this couldn’t be a mere coincidence, but it took a little more thought to fully understand. 

        It finally hit me: Scientists in every field do use their judgment when they are applying scientific method and principles.  Take medicine for instance: Doctors use their judgment every day, yet they are still simultaneously applying scientific methods and principles.  And just because they do so does not make medicine an art or even any less of a science.  What a concept.  The judgment of a doctor is based on his or her training and experience and this is why it is not purely subjective and this is why medicine is a science even with the application of judgment.  That is also why different friction skin examiners can both look at the same print and come up with differing amounts that they consider “sufficient.”  The difference is because of the differences in training and experience, not because the science is invalid.  That simple.  The problem?  The texts in this field do not explain it so simply.

            Mark Beck helped me to understand subjectivity versus objectivity and “sufficiency” with a very simple story.  This is as good a time as any to share that story with you:


A car runs a red light at a high rate of speed causing a fatal accident.  The car speeds away from the scene.

There are four witnesses to the entire incident.  All four were standing on the same street corner, the same distance from the accident.

The first witness is a 16-year-old high school football player.  He tells the responding officer that the run vehicle was an “old, shiny red and white convertible.”  He doesn’t know a Chevy from a Ford, knows even less about vehicle years, he doesn’t know about different license plates and he did not pay attention to this one anyway.

The second witness is an average 32-year-old male.  He reports to the officer that the run vehicle was an older model Corvette convertible, red over white and that the vehicle had Wyoming plates, but he did not get the number.

The third witness works at a Chevy dealership and is an antique car buff.  He tells the cop that the vehicle was a cherry red over white 1958 Corvette convertible with Wyoming plates.  He further advised that he has attended antique car shows in the Rocky Mountain Region for over 30 years and that he has only ever seen one vehicle like that and he knows the owner’s name is John Smith and that he lives somewhere in Laramie, Wyoming.

The fourth witness is an off-duty Wyoming State Patrol officer.  She tells the responding officer that the run vehicle was a cherry red over white 1958 Corvette convertible with Wyoming plates.  She also advised that she had recently checked Department of Motor Vehicle records for a similar vehicle that was involved in a separate traffic incident she was currently investigating.  Her investigation to date in the other case revealed that there was only one vehicle of this make, model, year and color registered in Wyoming and that this vehicle was registered to John Smith of 123 Chestnut Ave. in Laramie, Wyoming.


All four witnesses saw the same thing from the same vantage point.  All four therefore had the same objective observation (facts is facts).  All four witnesses had the visual information available to them to identify the run car, but only two of the witnesses had the training and experience to individualize the vehicle.  

This story did more to enhance my understanding of the whole subjectivity and sufficiency argument than anything I have read or heard to date.  It is a very simple way to explain what I thought was a difficult concept. 

Sandra Wiese
Northglenn Police Department, Colorado


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"I can get a print off air"
-Warrick Brown
2004 CSI calendar, January

Submitted by Richard Swanson
Colorado Bureau of Investigation



When a co-worker becomes the boss

Someone you have worked with for years is suddenly promoted to manager of your division.  You're happy for your friend, but you're worried about how to respond to the change in status.  How can you graciously take orders from someone who used to be your equal? Follow these tips:

1) Recognize that your relationship must change.  For both you and your new boss to succeed, the focus of your relationship must shift from camaraderie to work.  Preserving your friendship may be important, but it cannot take priority over meeting the expectations of your jobs.

2) Take it in stride.  The change in your relationship has nothing to do with you personally.  Instead of reacting negatively, focus your energy on building a positive working relationship with your new boss.

3) Respect your boss's authority.  Your co-worker is now responsible for your assignments, salary increases and performance reviews.  Remember that authority changes what we expect from people, how we treat one another and how we interpret behavior.

Avoid asking for special treatment.  You may be tempted to expect perks because you've worked closely with the boss in the past.  Giving into this temptation could create tension and force your former colleague to keep his or her distance from you.

-The Editors, Communication Briefings, October 2003, 800.722.9221,



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