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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, June 7, 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

FBI's Handling of Fingerprint Case Criticized   SEATTLE TIMES, WA  - June 1, 2004 ...documents show that one of the FBI examiners who erroneously linked a print to the Madrid bombings made two similar errors in the past...

Spain And US At Odds On Mistaken Terror Arrest   NEW YORK TIMES, NY - June 5, 2004 ..."They (the FBI) had a justification for everything," - Spanish National Police

Fingerprint Debate Heats Up NEWSDAY, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO  - June 5,, 2004 ...testimony as to the age determination of a latent print creates fervor in court.  Also link to: I Found Print on Jewel Box

Police Have Criminals in Palm of Their Hand NEW ZEALAND HERALD, NZ  - May 31, 2004 ...Police have caught up to 150 criminals with new technology that enables them to search and identify palm-prints…

Last week we all watched the internet for additional information on the Mayfield case.  On Friday, Judge Jones released a verbal order preventing the public distribution of the images in this case, so they may now be viewed online at:

There has also been some excellent discussion on the CLPEX board regarding this and other parallel topics.  Some of the posts mention the very relevant side issues of standards and training.  Here are a few comments by fellow CLPEX message board users:


We must recognize that we are going to have scientific standards, industry standards, administrative standards, court standards and personal standards. If possible, it would be nice to point out which category a standard is from.

In order to progress, we have to openly acknowledge that all conclusions are not absolute and conclusive (obviously given the present situation).

All conclusions should adhere to scientific protocols. If you want to call it ACE-V, so be it, but understand that science requires more than our industry has told us about ACE-V. Our analysis and conclusions should be reproducible, verifiable, and open to all that want to scrutinize them.

Due to science requiring that both the analysis and the conclusion be open to others, I think the only way to insure this is to document your analysis. This can be done with a written statement, a chart enlargement, a power point presentation, etc.

Because we are an applied science, financial constraints must be considered. It isn’t feasible to do the above on all comparisons. Maybe it should be done on all comparisons that you feel may be doubted by other qualified practitioners.

I think we should recognize the fact that our analysis could be wrong, but your notes are open to anyone to go through them and show you where your thinking went awry.

Our industry guidelines call for “sufficient friction ridge detail in sequence”. What is sufficient? I don’t feel that our parenting bodies have explained this very well. I can’t do much better myself but maybe between everyone who reads this board, it can be explained better. I use many methods to decide on sufficiency:

[our discipline needs:]

1) Much, much, much more training in the philosophy of science. 2QA was a good start. Now lets take it further. Next week I will testify in a case where the defense will bring in an expert counter the fp evidence with the weakness observation. I wish this could be the opening session in a national academy for fingerprint experts. As well as ongoing training at conferences and lectures.

2) Added steps to eliminate suggestion during the comparison process such as a thorough and written analysis before the latent print is ever compared. In order for this observation and analysis to be performed correctly the examiner must first completely understand the relationship between clarity and tolerance. This should be documented before the unknown impression is compared to the known.

3) We should stop trying to perpetuate the thinking that because friction skin is unique THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO BE WRONG CONCERNING AN IMPRESSION OF FRICTION SKIN. If you can demonstrate your knowledge of level I, II, and III detail. If you can demonstrate you understand the clarity/tolerance continuum, if you can demonstrate how you eliminated suggestion and bias from your decision I think you can be 100% sure that you have matched the unknown print to the source. But can you be wrong? It is possible. Is this your opinion? YES! Are you all knowing? NO!

4) We should stop being afraid to talk about points. They are incomplete by themselves and when relied on like a crutch that reliance does more damage than good. But they are real and can be counted.

5) Try not to "count" level III details. Evaluate them with the small detail axiom in mind. "Counting" level III details can lead to disaster because it is an evaluative process not a counting process. It is the shape that matters more than the quantity. A misguided analyst can lead himself or herself into disaster by adding level III detail into the equation without understanding the concept behind it.


I also received an excellent response to my commentary on error rate last week that I wanted to share.  Rhonda Boston brings her thoughts on this topic as this week's Detail (with permission, of course):


Forgoing all the talk of blind test and double blind test and etc, the real issue at hand I believe is setting standards and protocol for those who work in the field of Latent Print Examination. I have long thought that more than studies need to be done.

This matter goes much deeper thank just training, experience, talent, and motivation. It should also include ethics, how far will a person go under pressure?

Yes blind test and double blind testing could be a good thing. But they also need to be instructing the latent print examiners about ethics and the fact that in reality the latent print examiners are on trial, even though they aren't really. The latent print examiner needs to realize that each and every time he or she makes a call on an identification/individualization they put themselves and their credentials on the line. Sometimes this means going out on a limb as the agency they work for may not back them up with support or maybe they will. They need to scrutinize all aspects of their field of work. They need to base their opinions strictly on facts and not even listen to what the detectives or others say about the cases they work.

Basically the latent print examiner needs only the latent prints and known standards (fingerprints and palm prints) and equipment relevant to do their job in latents, such as a magnifier, comparitor, AFIS, camera and items to develop the latent prints. The latent print examiner needs to be aware of how serious this line of work is. Fingerprints are a dynamic piece of evidence if found in the right place. Yes we do need our identification/individualizations verified/validated by others qualified in the field. This also should not be taken lightly.

I believe there should be more training required and done before a person is even allowed to do casework or testify in court as an expert. If there are not schools available then use the assets from the area, such as state crime labs, others in the field who are qualified to train. The trainers need to be qualified to train. That is why I feel much work needs to be done on the standard setting and protocol end of this. I believe if we were doing proficiency testing correctly it would include going through actual case work previously done by an individual and be analyzed by someone from the field. Then the questions could be raised about why this method was or was not used. It would weed out strengths and weakness' of the individual and therefore help to find out what schools or training were necessary for each examiner.

There are several problems I have seen within the Latent Print Examiners field. I have seen how smaller agencies abuse their latent print examiners. I have actually had pressures put on myself as coming in forms of the detective saying "I made the arrest and now you have to make the prints match." Several other scenarios have come and gone for me and many others similar to this and sometimes worse than this. I have also tried to train some others in the field and they want to tell detectives they are 80% sure they match and I say NO you can't do that. I have even had detectives pace the floors as I do the comparisons for them. I try to tell them I will call them when I am done, but they are wanting to make an arrest and sometimes on
a high profile case they get kind of upset when you tell them the news that there are no matches or the latents are of no value for comparisons. There are so many problems out there in the field. Sometimes the road as a Latent Print Examiner can be a lonely and an unthankful road.

Something else that is seldom brought to light are the people who are exonerated due to fingerprints. They are bringing up all kinds of cases with DNA proving innocence. But how about fingerprints? I have helped
several people prove their innocence through fingerprints.

Yes I would say that much research needs to be done, but I go back to standards being set and protocols need to be established to help make our field a little lighter. I believe we as a science will be scrutinized more
but I believe this will only strengthen our field and make us stronger as we will have to be on our toes. Yes we need to be ready to give an account about errors, error rates, Daubert hearings, etc. It means we need to stay current in all areas of our field, study, study. We need to be prepared.

DISCLAIMER: The views discussed here are only the views of the writer and\do not reflect the views of the agency for which the writer is employed.

Rhonda Boston


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Management consultant Peter Stark suggests the following if you want to make it to the top in management: 

Develop positive vision.  See success before it arrives.  Example: Successful managers – when visualizing themselves walking across a high wire – see themselves walking to the other side.  Managers who struggle usually have their focus on not falling off the rope.

2. Think big.  Look for ideas that will be contagious and excite people.

3.  Encourage others to do their best.  Successful managers believe that people do want to make a significant contribution.  Coach, cousel and develop people to live up to their potential.

4.  Set and maintain high expectations for all who work with you.  Mediocrity does not generate a highly motivated work force.

5.  Overuse polite phrases.  Unsuccessful managers don’t seem to find the time to say “please” and “thank you.”

Adapted from "Becoming a Leader: Communication Techniques That Motivate, Guide and Inspire Employees to Excel," via Communication Briefings, October, 2003, 800.722.9221,



Archives, Smileys, and Newz were updated on my local computer, but unfortunately a technical problem is preventing internet logon from that machine.  I published the Detail through a different computer this week, but the web update will be delayed for an undetermined time.


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

Have a GREAT week!