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Monday, May 9, 2005

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 Checks Fingerprint Database After Miss SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE, CA  - May 5, 2005 ...bureau admits that it missed a fingerprint match for a man who authorities say later killed four women...

The Real World of Crime Scene Investigators, NV - May 6, 2005 ...I like what they do.  The only problem is, I can't solve it in an hour usually... wish I could...

Hearing to Dismiss Charges in 1980 Murder Begins   NORTH COUNTY TIMES, CA - May 6, 2005 ...the source of two fingerprints found in 1980 in the home of a murdered Oceanside couple remains unknown...

Experts: 'CSI' Unrealistically Depicts Job   SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, CA  - May 6, 2005  ...shows have boosted enrollment in forensic science classes, yet many in the field say they give future CSI's an unrealistic view...

Last week, we looked at part 1 of a historical and philosophical view on recognition and latent print examination from Craig Coppock.  We will continue with that article in the near future, but last week news of an IAFIS tenprint miss with tragic consequences broke out in the national news.  NPR Morning Edition and All Things Considered picked up this story, along with scores of news articles across the country.

This week we look at different perspectives from several of these articles.

Perspectives on the IAFIS tenprint miss of Jeremy Brian Jones.

Just the Facts:
Feds Take Responsibility For Fugitive Serial Killer
May 4, 2005 5:19 p.m. EST
By JASEN LEE, All Headline News Staff Reporter

ATLANTA, GA (AHN) A serial killer was allowed to go free because the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to identify his fingerprints when he was arrested on other charges.

Jeremy Jones now faces capital murder charges in Alabama for the murder and rape of a woman in 2004.

Authorities in Georgia arrested Jones three different times on minor offenses under an assumed name in 2003 and 2004.  Since the FBI had not filed the fingerprints, when Jones was arrested for another minor offense using his real name, he was let go.  He was wanted in Oklahoma for sexual assault at the time.

Jones had been questioned by investigators on several occasions before and after the Georgia arrests.

An FBI statement says, "Law enforcement lost an opportunity to prevent further criminal activity by this individual."  Officials attribute the error to a technical glitch.

Jones is a suspect in several rapes and murders in at least four states.

From a victim's Husband:
Husband: Failure to ID suspect 'ludicrous'

Times regional staff

The husband of a Cumming woman who authorities believe fell victim to a suspected serial killer said the FBI's failure to identify the suspect while he sat in jail before her abduction was "ludicrous."

Patrice Endres' husband, Rob Endres, said Wednesday that the FBI deserved "kudos for coming forward and admitting they made a mistake."

But he said Jeremy Jones never should have been free to kill again, as authorities maintain he was.

"There were two chances to get him and they blew them," Endres said.

"They would have saved the lives of four beautiful women."

Thomas E. Bush, the FBI's assistant director for criminal justice information services, acknowledged this week that the bureau's automated fingerprint identification system failed to "red flag" Jones' prints.

Jones, who is suspected in the deaths of at least five women in four states, spent much of 2003 and 2004 in the Carroll County and Douglas County jails in West Georgia.

He was wanted on a fugitive warrant in Ohio for jumping bond on a rape charge at the time he was jailed for minor offenses in Georgia.

But the system the FBI uses failed to make a match on his fingerprints, Bush said.

Jones later was released and is suspected of committing at least two more murders, including that of Patrice Endres, who went missing in April 2004 and whose body has not been recovered.

Authorities say Jones has confessed to kidnapping and killing the woman and dumping her body in a Douglas County creek.

"The FBI regrets this incident," Bush said. "We continue to improve our procedures and examine new technologies to upgrade and enhance the reliability and accuracy of (the system)."

Georgia arrest procedures call for local law enforcement agencies to submit fingerprints to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which in turn gives them to the FBI.

The prints are compared against a computerized database of about 450 million, FBI spokesman Joe Parris said.

A computer system handles the process, with human examiners no longer scrutinizing the prints.

"The fingerprint was presented through AFIS, and the automated system failed to make the match," Parris said. "Nobody did anything wrong, nobody was derelict in their duties.

"This was not a botched fingerprint match. This was the AFIS system operating within its expected error range."

Parris said the system had a margin of error of about 5 percent. "Nobody did anything wrong, the system just failed to make the match, with admittedly tragic consequences."

Rob Endres said he hopes the FBI investigates the reasons for the system's failure.

"An apology is great, but find the problem and fix it," he said.

"We rely on these people, and we can't continue to have failures."

From a fingerprint consultant:
NPR Interview: Kenneth Moses discusses shortfalls in the FBI's fingerprinting system
May 5, 2005

MELISSA BLOCK, host: A failure of the FBI's computerized system to match fingerprints allowed a wanted sex offender to walk free in Georgia. Authorities say after he was released, Jeremy Brian Jones went on to kill four women. Last year Jones was picked up on minor offenses and fingerprinted. But when those fingerprints were entered into the computer and sent to the FBI, there was no match. The check did not turn up the fact that he had previously been arrested for rape and had jumped bail. He's since been arrested and is in jail. Kenneth Moses is a forensics expert. He helped install automated fingerprint systems in California.

Mr. Moses, the FBI is saying this isn't human error; it's a rare case of this technology failing.

Mr. KENNETH MOSES (Director, Forensic Identification Services): That makes a lot of sense 'cause, in fact, these systems are what they call `lights out.' There is no human interaction in the identification process. The computer does the search and then decides whether or not there is the match or not.

BLOCK: And when the system fails, why does it fail?

Mr. MOSES: Well, none of these systems are 100 percent accurate. They only reach into the high 90s. When I started designing these systems, they were in the 70s, so they've improved quite a bit, but you're never going to get to 100 percent.

BLOCK: Now in those times that it does miss, what's going wrong? What's the computer not recognizing?

Mr. MOSES: The most common reason is the quality of the database; that is if it's searching for a particular person and that person's prints were taken, say, five or six years ago by some jailor in a local community, and he didn't do a careful job or he smeared the prints, that's what they receive at the FBI. If the database print on a person is very bad, the computer will miss it.

BLOCK: When the fingerprints are entered into the system and the computer starts doing its work of matching, what's it doing exactly? How is it making those matches?

Mr. MOSES: Well, what it does is the computer will scan each finger with the line--dot of light. And what it's looking for is where the fingerprint ridges, the little black lines that make up the fingerprint--what they do besides going on unbroken. So if they stop all of a sudden, like you have a dead end, it will mark that point. If one ridge forms into two, it'll mark that point. And in any fingerprint there's probably in excess of 50 to 100 of these points. And once it has those points, it joins the dots together like geometry, and it makes a geometric figure which becomes the fingerprint.

BLOCK: Now in this case, in the case of Mr. Jones, apparently the image was a digital image. It was taken fairly recently. Any way of knowing how good a print that might have been?

Mr. MOSES: Well, without looking at it, you don't know, but the fact that it's digital doesn't mean it's accurate. For instance, if you just roll your own finger on the desk, if you move that finger, slide it or push down too hard or not hard enough, even a digital image will be less than ideal. Now there's a wide range of tolerance that the computer has for poor-quality fingerprints. After all, there are 10 fingers, and all you need is a couple of them good to make a match. But if it's a very poor-quality set of prints, it will miss. And once it misses, it then assumes this is the first time this person's been arrested, and it will assign--the computer will assign it a new criminal identification number, which is what happened here.

BLOCK: Given the system the way it is now, what could be done to make it better? What's the thinking of ways to improve the matching system?

Mr. MOSES: Well, one way on the computer end is to make it more tolerant of poor fingerprints. And let's say if it searches a couple of fingers and they're bad, it keeps trying to find clear parts of any finger that might be good. But to tweak it that much would probably cost millions of dollars. You're probably better off focusing on the local level, to improve training and to improve the taking of fingerprints to begin with.

BLOCK: There are critics, of course, who, especially in the criminal justice system, say we've just become too reliant on these fingerprint matches, that they're not reliable.

Mr. MOSES: These fingerprint systems have increased the safety of everybody in society. When I was starting out, before we had these computers, we missed people all the time doing manual searches. People would be arrested, we'd take their fingerprints and manually search them. And by the time the searches came back from the state or federal government, it may be four to six weeks. Meanwhile, this guy's out and about. You compare that to today, where you get a fingerprint match in minutes. These people are still standing there when you find out who they really are and that they have warrants in various places.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Moses, thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. MOSES: My pleasure.

From the Webmaster:
Fingerprint Image Quality and AFIS results

Ask any latent print examiner and they will tell you; fingerprint quality affects the ability to make a match.  Ask any ten-print examiner and they will likely tell you exactly the same thing.  Every day, tens of thousands of automated ten-print search transactions are conducted in AFIS systems across the country.  What is not so apparent is the complex processes that take place behind the scenes that allow computer technology to grind through so many searches so quickly.

AFIS systems were initially designed from the same characteristics human examiners look at.  Most AFIS systems still classify patterns in terms of arches, loops, and whorls.  Some look at the over-all ridge flow and use neighboring areas of this flow to eliminate prints that don't match.  For example, in a right-slant loop pattern, the ridges just down and to the right of the core flow down and out of the pattern to the right.  On the other hand, the ridges in that same area of a left slope loop or a whorl pattern flow down and to the left.  The fact that there are different ridge direction maps in the same corresponding area of two fingerprints can be used to eliminate potential candidates in a repository of subjects without even comparing bifurcations and ridge endings.

Another "level 1" characteristic some AFIS systems (IAFIS for example) use to eliminate candidates before actual minutia comparisons occur is the ridge counts of the pattern.  A window of opportunity exists when ridge counts of a search print are compared against the ridge counts of a file print.  If the same pattern is no more than a few ridges off, they are accepted as a potential candidate.  If this happens with nine out of ten fingers, then the minutia of that subject is used for comparison in the next (and much more accurate) phase of processing.

However, most of the "misses" on an AFIS system never make it to that final phase.  Especially in prints of poor quality, AFIS often cannot accurately determine the ridge counts or pattern types of all the fingers.  Although there are some allowances built in, sometimes these just aren't enough.  IAFIS is built to reject prints of extremely low quality.  However, occasionally a set of prints will just barely make it through the initial quality filter, but will be assigned inaccurate level 1 classification features.  In the cases where these level 1 mis-classifications are too far off, the correct candidate would not be passed on to the next phase of matching.  After the level 1 filters weed out the vast majority of candidates, the most processor-intensive phase of AFIS comparison begins.  The relative position of minutia is compared in the final phase, but if the prints drop off in earlier phases, they are never given an opportunity to match in the final phase.

In this sense, the elimination of ten-print candidates is a "lights-out" process as Mr. Moses mentions.  However, most of the ten-print identifications are still manually identified by ten-print examiners at FBI CJIS division. 

Ideally, every set of fingerprints would go straight to the most accurate type of searching possible.  However, current limitations on the processing power necessary to achieve this high level of accuracy prevent this from happening.  In fact, less than one hundredth of one percent usually make it to the final phase.  With 50,000 ten-prints searches a day, against a repository of 50 million ten-print records, it is easy to understand why this balance between accuracy and resources must exist in the world's largest fingerprint repository.

Related to latent print examination, this scenario of not being passed through initial pattern classification filters would be like an examiner who observes a strangely distorted latent print and doesn't even seriously consider the correct print as a possible candidate.  In this scenario, they wouldn't even put the glass down on it because they would think there was no way it even matched on level 1 detail... like comparing a whorl to a loop.  But many of us have seen those types of prints in our career... that latent print that was the left side of a right slope loop... and we didn't even look twice at the double-loop whorl in the right thumb, and missed it.  AFIS has the same difficulty.

Although misses are extremely unfortunate, as evident by the consequences of the Jeremy Brian Jones miss, the alternative involves upgraded algorithms and more (and faster) processors so more prints go on to minutia processing without causing undue delays in transaction time.  In a system like IAFIS this is a major process change, but it is already scheduled. The requirements for "Next Generation" IAFIS are already being worked on within the FBI, and the contract will be awarded in the next few years.

In the mean time, the law enforcement community should be actively pursuing the most accurate repository possible to continually boost over-all accuracy of AFIS systems.  This involves adhering to or exceeding the FBI minimum requirements for image quality, using FBI certified equipment to capture fingerprints, adhering to best practices when taking inked fingerprints, and being sure to get completely rolled fingerprints with as little smudging as possible.  If a live-scan system gives a "reject" notice for fingerprint quality, officers in some agencies will over-ride this warning and send the poor quality prints anyway.  Likewise, some jailers consider the taking of inked prints to be a menial duty and don't devote much effort to recording quality rolled impressions.  These and other shoddy practices should be identified and eliminated when possible so that we continue to build a quality repository for the future of law enforcement.  To miss even a single opportunity in a "minor" offense to take good quality prints could result in the next Jeremy Brian Jones case in your state.

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