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Monday, March 1, 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

Have Your Thumb Ready to Ride the Bus - ST PETERSBURG TIMES, FL - Feb 28, 2004 ...schools ponder a $2-million system that would require students to use their thumbprint to get on the bus...

Rape Suspect 'Cannot Explain Fingerprint Link' - THE SCOTSMAN, UK  - Feb 26, 2004 ...suspect had no option but to suggest that fingerprint evidence linking him to an attack was fabricated...

City Sued in Wrongful Rape Conviction - WBRZ-TV, LA - Feb 26, 2004 of a fingerprint expert who gave false testimony at the trial - prints on the box fan were unreadable...

Forensic Science Expert Join Forces to Create High School Forensic Science Curriculum - E-MEDIA WIRE - Feb 23, 2004 ...students apply everything learned in the labs and use for proper collection, labeling, and preservation techniques...


This week, I received an e-mail and learned of the passing of a dedicated colleague who demonstrated excellence in the field of latent prints.  Below are some e-mail regards from friends of Bob Brien.

"Bob Brien passed away on February 23.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer in November 2003 and our doctors really thought the treatment would work for Bob but it wasn't in God's plan for Bob's life for him to get better.  Yesterday was his funeral service at our church and both police departments (Pontiac where he served 25 years and Bloomfield Township where he was currently employed for 15 years) participated and honored Bob beyond description. 

I want you to know how much he appreciated receiving the Detail each week and always read and printed the articles.  Thanks for your efforts.

His wife,

One day in the early 90's at approximately 9:30 am a young lady reported that she had been robbed while in her apartment on Square Lake across from Alan Ford.  Bob Brien went to the scene and processed the scene for evidence.  I interviewed the victim and a witness, then got back with Bob.  Bob notified me that he had lifted a print from inside the apartment.  After completing the scene, he took the latent print to the Oakland County Sheriff's department and ran print through AFIS.  By early after noon, Bob notified me as to who belonged to the print he had lifted.  A quick check with the victim revealed that she did not know the suspect.  I then went to the Pontiac police department and obtained a photo of the suspect.  By the time I had returned to the station, it was 4:00 pm and quitting time.  I spoke with my then commander, Lt. Jeff Werner, and advised him of what we had.  Mind you, this young woman had been confronted by a suspect inside her home at approximately 9:30 am and just 5 1/2 hours later, we had the suspect made on prints inside the apartment, we had his photo, and a couple of address where he might be in Pontiac.  After advising the Lt. he asked if I wanted to try and locate the suspect immediately.  I responded in the affirmative.  The Lt. made a few calls, I called my wife and told her that I would be a bit late, and we set out for Pontiac looking for our suspect.  After checking a couple of address, we were driving through the Lakeside Projects when a vehicle approached from the North and slowed for a speed bump as we were traveling North.  The Lt. and the driver made eye contact, and the Lt. advised: "You are not going to believe this, but that guy looks like our suspect".  He turned around and gave chase.  As the Lt. was attempting to catch up with the suspect, he may have rolled through a stop sign.  As luck would have it again, a Pontiac squad car observed this possible infraction and gave chase.  A short distance later, the suspect stopped.  As the Lt. was trying to get himself out of a traffic violation, I was able to approach the suspect and confirm that he was indeed the man whom Bob Brien had positively identified being in our victims apartment earlier in the day.  He was taken into custody.

The suspect denied ever being in the victims apartment, at first.  Then after being confronted with the finger print evidence, he confessed. So, thanks to the expert, trustworthy work of Bob Brien, and the good eyes of the Lt. and a little luck, this particular crime was reported, investigated, and solved within eight hours of it's occurrence.

In another case, Brien kept a picture of a distinctive fingerprint and its scar that was lifted from a bloody knife.

As was his usual practice when an arrest was made, Brien would pull the fingerprints of a man police were trying to identify, as well as any prints police have on file of the man's relatives, in case the man tried to pass himself off as a relative.

When Brien pulled a print, he noticed the distinctive scar that had eluded him for three years.

The print helped convict the man of murder in 1987.

"That was before they had (computer-assisted) fingerprint identification," said Randy Armstrong, a retired Bloomfield Township police detective.

"That's the kind of guy he was.

Just a great guy."


Last week, we read excerpts from an article by Sandra Wiese that touch on her perspectives regarding the philosophy and methodology of latent print identification. This week, we take a look at an article that recently appeared on the Associated Press newswire on digital imaging.  We have seen portions of it before, but the main part of the article is new.


Defense Attorneys Challenge Digitally Generated Evidence:
Associated Press, Sunday, February 22, 2004

When Victor Reyes went on trial for murder last year, the technology that fingered him was supposed to be a star witness.

Police in Florida had used software known as More Hits to determine that a smudged handprint they had found on duct tape wrapped around a body -- but originally couldn't decipher -- implicated Reyes in the 1996 killing.

The judge let prosecutors introduce More Hits' digital enhancement. But the defense called it "junk science," and had an art professor testify that the process resembled how Adobe Photoshop can be used to make trick-photo illustrations.

Reyes was acquitted.

Jurors said they based their decision mainly on the notion that the print didn't prove Reyes was the killer -- not on the legitimacy of More Hits' method. And a Florida appeals court later ruled that More Hits' technology -- used by 215 U.S. police departments -- is acceptable.

Still, some defense attorneys learned a lesson: get more aggressive about challenging digitally generated evidence.

"Now whenever you hear the word enhancement, an antenna goes up," said Hilliard Moldof, a Florida defense attorney who is questioning digitally enhanced fingerprints in two cases.

Or in the words of Mary DeFusco, head of training for the Philadelphia public defender's office: "I thought digital was better, but apparently it's not. We're definitely going to take a look at it."

As more police departments abandon chemically processed film in favor of digital photography, the technology could be confounding for the justice system.

Film images are subject to darkroom tricks, but because digital pictures are merely bits of data, manipulating them is much easier.

And although willful evidence manipulation is rare, forensic specialists acknowledge that a poorly trained examiner incorrectly using computer enhancement programs can unwittingly introduce errors.

"What you can do in a darkroom is 2 percent of what Photoshop is capable of doing," said Larry Meyer, former head of photography for State Farm Insurance Co.

Courts have consistently allowed digital photographs and enhancement techniques. But some observers say such methods should endure a more thorough examination, as have technologies such as DNA analysis.

"There have been relatively few challenges to the use of digital technology as evidence and in most of them the courts have looked at them in a fairly superficial way," said Edwin Imwinkelried, an evidence expert at the University of California, Davis law school.

Concerns about the impeachability of digital photographs are one reason many police departments have been hesitant to ditch film for crime scene photographs and forensic analysis.

In fact, some people who train law enforcement agencies in photography estimate that only 25 to 30 percent of U.S. police departments have gone digital -- despite the huge cost benefits of no longer having to buy film and the ease with which digital pictures can be captured and disseminated.

The police department in Santa Clara bought 30 digital cameras recently but is holding off on giving them to detectives and technicians until the department specifies ways to lock away the original photos as evidence "so there can be no question that anything was changed," said Sharon Hoehn, an analyst for the department.

George Pearl, who runs a civil-case evidence service in Atlanta and is a past president of the Evidence Photographers International Council, sticks with film partly because he doesn't want to explain on a witness stand if he used a computer to adjust the contrast and other settings of a digital image.

"Even if it was honest adjustments," Pearl said. "Juries, they're all skeptical and they're all sitting there waiting to jump on something that's wrong."

Some law enforcement officials also worry about the limitations that still plague digital photography.

Digital pictures can't be blown up as clearly for courtroom displays as well as film photos. Or the compression needed to store a digital file on disk can make the image blurry or blocky, potentially obscuring key details.

"Digital imaging for the most part has a long way to go to meet the quality of film," said Richard Vorder-Bruegge, an FBI forensic expert who chaired a panel that wrote guidelines for law enforcement use of digital imaging.

For example, he said, a negative shot on traditional 200-speed film can produce the equivalent of 18 megapixels of resolution. Only highly specialized, expensive digital cameras approach that now; most that consumers buy are less than 5 megapixels.

Vorder-Bruegge concedes that a top-notch photographer with plenty of time "could do an outstanding job" with a 1-megapixel camera. But such skills are in short supply in many police departments, especially smaller ones.

Consequently, he believes cops should stay with film for capturing close-up details of footprints and tire tracks.

Many people in law enforcement believe Vorder-Bruegge's assessments are too conservative. They say that with proper training and stringent procedures, digital photos should not be problematic.

For one thing, blurriness or other errors in digital imaging are nowhere near severe enough to "fool an examiner into misidentifying a fingerprint," said George Reis, a crime scene investigator in Newport Beach, where police began converting to digital a decade ago, saving more than $6,000 a month in Polaroid costs. Reis helps other police agencies make the digital conversion through a business he runs, Imaging Forensics.

In Oregon State Police's forensic laboratory, which has been all digital for about five years, original pictures of fingerprints and other evidence are encrypted so they can't be changed, and burned onto a CD, giving the lab the equivalent of a film negative to reference later.

Any enhancement, such as lightening or darkening elements of the picture -- something traditionally done in film darkrooms as well -- is performed on a copy of the image, not the original, said Mike Heintzman, the lab director.

Erik Berg, a forensic supervisor in Tacoma, Wash., and the developer of More Hits, said digital photos can allow for even more security than traditional means of stowing film negatives in a drawer.

"I have the ability to lock down one or more digital files to a point where I can ensure not only who can or cannot look at it, but for how long, whether or not they can print it or distribute it," he said. "I can also prove whether or not it has been tampered with since it was created."

Perhaps most importantly, software such as More Hits or Adobe Photoshop now can automatically log changes made to an image, so the alterations can be reproduced by other people. The function was not deployed during the Reyes investigation in Florida.

Barbara Heyer, who defended Reyes, concedes that if used properly, the logging function can improve the acceptability of digital evidence.

"Until there's a history of (what was done and when), not only will I attack it, it should be attacked," Heyer said. Otherwise, "you are relying solely on the word of the person doing the work. That's not something I would like to do when someone's facing life in prison or death."


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Don't allow 'reverse delegation'

Once you've assigned a task to an employee, don't allow yourself to be talked into relieving the person of their responsibility.  That can happen in the blink of an eye.

Example: You allow yourself to be buttonholed in a hallway or the elevator.  The conversation begins "I think we have a problem."  The "we" implies that the person would like to bounce the task back to you.  If you're not careful, the problem will end up on your desk.

How should you handle this kind of situation?  Make sure that the next move belongs to the person to whom you have delegated the task.

Example: Say "You're right.  There is a problem here.  What are your alternatives?  Give me a call tomorrow and tell me how you've decided to handle it.  I support you 100%."

-Adapted from Work Smart, Not Hard, George Sullivan, Facts on File Publications, via Communication Briefings, December 2003, 800.722.9221,



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Have a GREAT week!