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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, July 5, 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 Director Says Agency is Examining Evidence Procedure   OREGONIAN, OR  - July 1, 2004 ...Mueller says the FBI is investigating how it erroneously linked Brandon Mayfield to a deadly terror attack in Madrid...

Man Fakes Death to Get Out of DUI   WASHINGTON TIMES, DC - July 1, 2004 ...a man who faked his death to get out of a traffic ticket eight years ago has learned just how far the long arm of the law can reach...

Police to Ask City for New ID Method TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE, WA  - June 28, 2004 ...county and city agencies are at odds over a system to store fingerprints from suspects booked into the county jail...

How State's System Works TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE, WA  - June 28, 2004 enforcement agencies submit to the state database fingerprints of anyone arrested for a felony or misdemeanor...

Popular demand
has prompted me to finally create a "Close Non-ID" page on CLPEX where you can submit those examples of really scary-close prints... that simply don't match!  This page will be a resource for trainers to obtain materials for instruction.  Likewise, it will be a resource for all of us to see the best non-matches that are out there.  On the home page, I have added the new CloseCalls link under "Site Features" on the left.  The page will be coordinated by "Captain Close", whose identity will be revealed next week.  :)

Last week
we looked at a scenario that involved a tough identification that nobody else would verify.  Some excellent discussion took place on the message board... if anyone else has any feedback on that scenario, it would still be welcomed.  After some discussion on the message board last week, we look at an interesting dialogue on point minimums.  This issue will be brought to the top of the board for those interested in continuing discussion.


Conversations on point minimums are always interesting and lively.  I believe point counters sometimes take their position to "stir the pot."  Right or wrong, you have to admit it will lead to some good discussion.

Interesting.  In a way, I kind of agree with point counters.  To me, they are advocating a "minimum level" of Galton details to offset the potential for either human error or for genuine misidentification through the examiner being "fooled" by what he or she sees.  This I think is a valid comment.  I personally believe that biological uniqueness is fact.  But at what level?  We are having discussions over equipment that will allow us to see more and more detail at greater resolution, but at what point does the ACE-V methodology become unworkable?  Is it possible to look too closely for information that may not be reproduceable or unique?  Perhaps we should err on the cautious side of some sort of threshold below which I would fear to tread; a minimum amount of information below which no expert examiner should subject either him or herself.  Can we really expect examiners to assess ever decreasing amounts of data with scientific accuracy?  Whether we like it or not, we are all human and outside factors can and do affect our ability to compare prints.  It could be that the non numeric environment has produced the breeding ground for such factors to become more pronounced and for mistakes to become possible.  Do we need the safety net of a minimum standard of data before we will release the identification to the public domain?  Do we need a safety net for the good of the profession?

We have argued this point since 1973.  Fine, I give in.  Yes, we need a safety net  And the safety net involves standards.  We need standards:
Standards in training
Standards in continuing education
Standards in understanding and articulating biological uniqueness
Standards in understanding and articulating how uniqueness transfers

of the knowledge that results from these standards is that there are some situations where it is possible to not have a large quantity (area, points) and still have an ident... it's non-numeric.  Any quantity requirement will exclude some impressions that the examiner might identify. (see the Weekly Detail  Issue 83)  If they say they would never identify an impression with less than XX, then maybe they aren't operating within the standard... the non-numeric standard... the training standard that says we should understand how uniqueness transfers and what it means.

We need to move toward the philosophy of identification.  The
standard is within the expert, not within the print.  But we can try to get there by defining what makes a print "difficult" for an examiner.  If we can scientifically address this in an accurate way, then we can take a next step... how are those elements of "difficulty" related to one another?  Then we can talk about standards in terms of detail using numbers that address quantity... AND quality.  And we can also talk about how psychology relates to the standard.

I couldn't agree more with what you say... in an ideal world.  But do we live in an ideal workd?  I think not.  We are in a forensic world of budget holders, bureaucrats, politicians and apathy.  Not to mention the human element that performs this work of ours.  I contend that even if all the "Standards" you mentioned were met in full, you would still have erroneous identifications from time to time because we are all human.  You just cannot train out human instinct or divorce the human from the pressures of daily life be it professional or personal pressures.

We should all strive for the best possible knowledge and awareness of our science, I agree.  But are we as humans actually safe to handle the responsibility of leaving the standard in the hands of the examiner rather than the print?  With 10000 latent print examiners come 10000 different standards whether we like it or not.  If effect a very non standard, standard??  You and I both agree on what is the correct methodology, but I disagree with you in your assertion that the profession is ready to handle the ACE-V methodology.  I don't think it is.  I don't think humans can!!

How does a minimum standard prevent human error, especially given all of the 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 point upsets?

The safety net is knowledge.  The safety net is widespread sharing of close ones that weren't, so we know where to set the level of "enough"; understanding how skin can be distorted and how to interpret distortion.  The safety net is understanding the psychology of how we come to conclusions and constant reinforcement that each comparison is independent of the last. 

We need all of this with or without a minimum standard, and since there is no scientific basis for a minimum standard, I guarantee that would be the fodder for the next round of attacks on our discipline.  Then we're all left trying to explain a standard that has no basis.

I'm unclear how this helps.

I find your position extremely interesting since the Mitchell Daubert challenge and SWGFAST have both established this as the "standard" methodology in our discipline.  What would you propose as the comparison method and standard?

Let me put my argument this way.........ACE-V is still the accepted scientific standard by which we should which we assess evidence holistically. But let me use the following analogy.....

I am a test pilot for commercial airliners. I am a breed apart from normal pilots and I am one of the chosen few, I am of the 'right stuff'.  I throw those 767 babies around and through the clouds, looping the loop and defying the ground (sorry..couldn't resist it!), and generally testing the plane's flying capability to destruction. Why? So lesser pilots can safely fly the commercial airline without fear of crashing the plane.  Occasionally a pilot will crash and burn because he or she went too far and tried to fly the plane too close to it's design limits.

Now, I think that generally latent print examiners should be considered the 'lesser pilots' for the sake of my argument. There certainly are latent print examiners out there of the 'right stuff', but how many? Most mortals will crash and burn because for whatever training they may receive, they are just not naturally gifted pilots, but rather good flying technicians. They exceed their own skills and capabilities and the plane goes down.

What stops the plane going down? Well, the pilots are as highly trained as they can be, but specific safety parameters are built into the plane's design to prevent the ordinary pilot having to fly
too much by the seat of the pants and thus ensuring all the passengers reach their allotted destinations. The pilot of the passenger jet never has to reach the point of no return because all
the safety checks are in place. If the plane is unfit to take off, the passengers walk!! No need for heroics!!

My analogy is clumsy, but I think my message is just about clear. Does the profession crash and burn because we are all forced to fly the jets beyond design capabilities, beyond our own abilities??


Thank you for your excellent flying example; it clarifies your position without involving levels of detail or points!!  This is because when you strip everything away, it really isn't about points.  Sure, points are safe... points are trusted, tried and true.  But the reason that is
so is because examiners have been using points for so long.  Many examiners practicing today were trained under a point standard.  It's methodology that is ingrained in the collective head of our discipline.  In essence, there is total comfort with points, and that's OK.  But it isn't the whole picture, and most realize this.

Others have been trained under a non-numeric system.  We see and use points on a regular basis.  In fact, many times idents are made using only points.  However, we also pay attention to 3rd level detail... learn from 3rd level even in prints that we know match... look at level 3 detail in prints that don't match... and we learn... and we learn... and we learn...  and we become comfortable with what we see, because we were trained... and we have experience... just like the traditional examiner who is trained and has experience with points.  But it is different.

How can you be expected to use level 3 if you weren't trained to look at it or use it?  You aren't comfortable with it, so should you use it?  NO!  You should not if you are not comfortable.  Quoteable quote coming up...

Ridgeology is not to push you where you are uncomfortable going.  Ridgeology is to explain how you got somewhere you KNOW you are!!

For examiners who have trained and practiced under a point standard, I don't know that they would ever be comfortable consciously dropping below that.  However, that is how they were TRAINED and that is based on their KNOWLEDGE and that is their PROCESS.  What ridgeology says is the basis is there for level 3 when clarity permits... so don't tell someone who HAS trained in ridgeology they are below a standard.  They are not below a standard!  They have trained to a standard.  They have knowledge that supports a standard.  They understand the process and philosophy behind a standard.  If an examiner isn't comfortable "going there" that's fine... but don't tell the Ridgeologist they need standards.

Does the FAA prevent the Blue Angels from operating around the country on a regular basis?  I believe their error rate is considered acceptable.

I know.  I just wanted to stir the pot.  :)

Good discussion always helps solidify my position on the subject.


I have been waiting for an appropriate time to publish the following.  I received it as an e-mail forward almost three years ago, and it really made me stop and think.  I hope it does the same for you:

The Old Fingerprint Expert

I've been a Fingerprint Expert for most of my life
To put food on the table for my kids and my wife
I've been comparing those prints for some twenty-five years
Busting my ass and shedding some tears

I've been mixing those chemicals and identifying those crooks
I've been going to court and reading those books
I still give an honest days work for an honest days pay
Because I really believe, that's the American way

But these young experts that think they know it all
Can rub you so wrong, it makes your skin crawl
They're right out of college but don't have a clue
But you do it their way 'cause they're smarter than you

They think if it works on paper, then it's got to be right
But where are they when it's late in the night
While I'm trying to do things the way that they said
They're home dining, dancing or laying in bed

They've got these ideas how to handle a big case
Their final results are usually a disgrace
But it's suppose to be finished before I leave for the night
So I'm pulling out my hair and getting uptight

I've never been a quitter, so I don't know how to feel
I've been sitting around thinking this can't be for real
So after hours of trying and scratching my head
I left them a note and here's how it read

I've never been to college, so I don't have the smarts
To make the system work with all the wrong parts
So I hope you can fix it with your college degree
Because I have just quit, don't bother calling me



To discuss this Detail, the message board is always open: (

More formal latent print discussions are available at (


Postponed until next week so you can somberly reflect on the old fingerprint expert for an extra couple of seconds.



Learn to FACE your staff

Are you a good listener?  Most people think they are, and most people are wrong.

In the workplace, poor listening skills contribute to misunderstandings and time-wasting errors.  The inability to really hear what others are saying leads to lower productivity, lost profits, higher costs, lower morale and increased turnover.  So how do you increase your listening skills?  FACE your employees and connect:

1. Focus on the listener.  Serious listening means tuning out noise, distractions and other priorities.  Make an appointment if necessary.  To help yourself focus, take notes.

2. Acknowledge your listener by nodding, smiling, sitting forward and adding comments such as "Yes, go on" and "I see."  Most important, hold eye contact.

3. Clarify. 
Active listening requires that you understand not only the content of the information, but the intent.  Example: "You say you want to be taken off the Jensen account.  Are you too busy to handle it, or is there some other problem?"

4. Empathize.  Many of us want to be problem solvers.  When people vent, we offer suggestions, when what they really want is someone to hear them out.  Instead of immediately offering a solution, spend some time listening.  You'll often find that most people know how to resolve their problems, they just need to hash it out for themselves.

Adapted from "Bottom Line Listening," by Wicke Chambers and Spring Asher, via Communication Briefings, February, 2004, 800.722.9221,


Added the CloseCalls feature page
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!