Detail Archives    Discuss This Issue    Subscribe to The Detail Fingerprint News Archive       Search Past Details

G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, October 15, 2007

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

New Technology Helps Solve Cold Case ABC11-TV, NC - Oct 12, 2007 ...there are thousands of old palm print cards on file...agents are using those records to help solve cases...

Pay to the Order of [really dumb burglar] COURT TV, NY - Oct 12, 2007 ...the third time was no charm for a Delaware robbery suspect...

Accused Burglar Explains Why His Fingerprints Found at Crime Scene
BERMUDA SUN, BERMUDA - Oct 10, 2007 has suggested an innocent explanation for why his fingerprints were found at the scene of a burglary...

Killer Sentenced to Life Without Chance of Parole STATESMAN JOURNAL, OR - Oct 6, 2007  ...a fingerprint found on a car stereo matched suspect...

Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
Last Week's Board topics containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist

Statistics and Misidentifications - The weeks Detail
Michele Triplett 24368 14 Oct 2007 02:09 pm

Charles Parker 12 14 Oct 2007 11:52 am

Raise The Banner
Charles Parker 46 14 Oct 2007 07:25 am

Fingerprints and Intelligence
Charles Parker 38 13 Oct 2007 06:46 pm

NEW - Latent Print Examiner Positions
ccpereira 53 12 Oct 2007 09:04 pm

Coordination with QD discipline on evidence
Mark 67 12 Oct 2007 06:00 pm

Charles Parker 739 12 Oct 2007 04:19 pm

Ernie Hamm 131 11 Oct 2007 07:49 pm

ASCLAD Related question
Alphabrit 1572 10 Oct 2007 02:35 pm

Nigerian fingerprint scam???
Pat A. Wertheim 650 08 Oct 2007 06:21 pm

ISAFI - February 2008 in Patiala, India - call for papers
clpexco 196 07 Oct 2007 12:12 pm



Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group web page with FIG # 17.

Updated the Detail Archives.


Last week

we looked at an announcement of an International Fingerprint Symposium in Patiala, India early next year.

This week

we look at a recent article in Forensic Magazine on the movement from film to digital imaging, by Steve Scarborough

Film to Digital Conversion
by Steve Scarborough
Forensic Magazine, April/May '05

Special considerations for larger agencies

Photography has seen some dramatic changes over the years ever since the 1840’s when the advancement of acetate and gelatin for use as film made photography more practical.

However, no change has been more remarkable than the use of silicon, instead of grains of silver, to record images. While photographers like Mathew Brady, famous for his Civil War images, used bulky box cameras to document scenes, today’s photographers use sleek digital cameras. Photographic enhancements that used to be done in the darkroom by the likes of Ansel Adams are duplicated today using sophisticated software on flashy computers. Finished prints that used to drip from improvised clotheslines now roll smoothly out of high-tech photo printers.

Digital technology has revolutionized photography but the transition to digital offers reason for some trepidation. This transition is a significant concern for law enforcement today. The larger the agency the more magnified the concerns.

The transition from film to digital can be fraught with problems and at times can be seen as a military operation, or at least one requiring military precision. As in any police operation, things that might go smoothly on a small operation could spell disaster in a large one with many components. A successful police operation needs proper preparation, planning, organization, and coordination. A successful switch to digital photography requires the same elements.

Law enforcement agencies make the conversion from film to digital for basically four reasons.

1. To save money
2. To save time
3. To increase the quality of photographs
4. To increase the quality of communication with easy distribution of photos.

The credibility provided by digital photos and an enhanced public image resulting from employing current technology are additional advantages of going digital for a law enforcement agency.

Conversion to digital has particular considerations for medium to large law enforcement agencies. The conversion process needs to be initiated by thorough research, followed by a comprehensive plan, including cogent justifications paired with short and long term funding, supported by solid policy and procedures, and the wise selection of components.

Some agencies have started their conversion process with the digital camera. “The camera should be the last consideration,” says Chris Parsons of Linear Systems, a company that provides digital imaging to law enforcement. “The process should not start with camera towards output but should start with output towards camera.” The important lesson learned from successful conversion projects is that the infrastructure must be in place before any hardware or cameras are issued.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department recently began the film to digital conversion process and has developed a formula for success. The LVMPD brain trust realized that conversion to digital is a very complicated undertaking. They also realized that conversion is not a one time purchase of cameras but a continuing process involving many components.

Research is essential for a film to digital conversion project. “In order to be successful in digital conversion, an agency can’t just buy cameras and expect that to propel the project,” says David Phillips, Photo Lab Supervisor for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. “The proper research must be completed first.”

A good method of research is to scout other agencies’ conversion schemes. The unsuccessful agencies can be polled to determine the mistakes they made and the successful agencies can be analyzed to follow their process. Quite often the response of an agency stalled in the conversion process is that they issued digital cameras without doing complete research and without the infrastructure in place to manage the digital photos.

While a small agency could overcome this oversight, a larger agency should strongly consider an imaging consultant and an imaging company to help with the transition. The consultant can help with the intellectual issues and an imaging company can help with the hardware and software necessary for image management.
Research for digital conversion should also include gaining knowledge of the vendors that can provide long term support of the various computer and camera related products necessary for a long term project. It may also include compatibility with current computer and camera equipment.

The research phase is a good place to begin development of Policies and Procedures (SOPs) for digital imaging and digital image management. A sharing program of SOPs with other agencies should be a step in the research process.

An important consideration when conducting research for digital conversion is the location of the digital image repository. There are four units within a law enforcement agency that are repository options.

1) The records unit is often considered as a potential repository since (digital) photos are documentation and are a form of records.
2) The agency’s information technology unit is also a possibility because digital images are also computer files and can be stored and distributed over the IT network. Also, large computer servers are necessary for digital storage.
3) The involved specialized units, such as intelligence and detectives, are also a consideration because these units have knowledge of the security and integrity of sensitive records. The crime scene unit also falls into this category as they may be, next to the booking unit, the biggest producer of photographs.
4) The photo laboratory is also a consideration since this unit has traditionally handled photo records and their distribution.

LVMPD wisely chose the photo laboratory as the location of image storage. This unit already had the solid background in photo record management and document security, and had a history of retaining integrity on negatives and photos. The photo laboratory also had knowledge of the broader concepts necessary for integration with crime scene units, detectives, and the district attorney’s office. Recent conversion of the photo mug system to digital had given the photo laboratory a solid background in the computer aspects of a project of this sort.

After research, a fully developed plan is the next step. Planning a digital conversion is extremely important, especially for a larger agency with many different units involved in the project. Digital technology, like computers, will improve, change, and migrate; and this calls for planning continuing upgrades.

Planning for digital conversion should include the analysis of the infrastructure necessary to support all areas of digital imaging. The computer network should be analyzed to determine if it can support digital conversion. This is especially important for large agencies that have several outlying substations and many physical locations throughout their jurisdiction. The infrastructure necessary to support digital imaging may also include workstation computers, input stations, storage and image management servers, backup servers, digital lab photo printers, and CD writers. Plans for central storage with offsite backup should be included.

“For an agency of our size to successfully convert to a complete digital imaging environment, we must first have a solid infrastructure in place before the first camera leaves our lab,” says David Phillips. “If we are not in a position to safely and securely transfer, store, and output large amounts of digital information, we will certainly be setting ourselves up for failure. In an agency of our size, failure is not an option.”

An effort should be made to involve the various units early on in the planning process. The photo unit, crime scene unit, forensic laboratory, traffic, detectives and special details, even the in-house photo PR unit could be involved in early strategic planning sessions.

A workflow analysis should be conducted, keeping in mind the units that will be involved in the conversion process. The workflow could include a thread for each of the units and how they will integrate with the entire system. The thread would include the workflow from the download station to the server, (including the file naming procedure to standardize the process) to the backup/archive system and identify which units will ultimately have access to those photos.

LVMPD realized that conversion should be done slowly and carefully, that it can be high profile, and that it would be a great advancement for the agency. Digital technology, done correctly, can improve the integrity and public image of the agency.

A good digital image management software package will automate the input, storage, and retrieval of digital images/photos thus assuring system integrity. The software should transfer images easily from the various input stations, immediately save an archive copy on the archive drive, erase the memory cards, and transfer the image to the storage drive for access only by qualified personnel.

Another major justification for film to digital conversion is the definite cost savings for the agency. Time and money is gained with digital processing over film processing and money is also saved using memory cards instead of film.

An interesting side effect of going to digital is that photographers will take more photos. Unlike film, more digital images do not mean more cost. Using digital cameras, photographers will increase the average number of photos taken on property crimes from 4 up to 12, and images will increase on a typical homicide from an average of 100 up to several hundred.

An overlooked justification for digital conversion is that it is environmentally friendly versus chemical film processing. This may or may not be an issue depending upon an agency’s constituents.

Larger agencies have to cope with the greater capital required for comprehensive conversion to digital photography. It is very important to realize that it will be necessary to acquire continuing financial support for digital conversion to be successful. Digital conversion is a long term project with recurring costs and constant upgrading of equipment.

While this process is similar to traditional photography in many budgetary ways, due to the continuing progression of computer technology, digital photography needs much more consideration. LVMPD had the great foresight to line up future grant funding for their digital conversion program.

Film to digital conversion does not follow the traditional photo profile but more closely follows the computer profile. Film-based cameras could be purchased and would last for many years. Digital cameras require a vast computer based infrastructure and are quickly outdated.

A consideration in funding is that digital conversion will eventually save money. Conversion to digital saves money in the budget for agencies of all sizes.

Another integral part of digital conversion should be the promotion of the project. Digital conversion can be an enhancement to the agency’s credibility and professional standing in the community. Project promotion should emphasize this aspect and should be a continuing process which will in turn, help with the continuing funding that is required for a project like digital conversion.

Policy and Procedures
Policy and procedures need to be fully written prior to any hardware purchases. Digital imaging is merely the newest progressive advancement in photography and this should be kept in mind when developing SOPs. Procedures for digital images should follow those applied to film. The issue in digital imaging is not chain-of-custody but image integrity. The SOPs should provide guidelines for proper procedures and workflow to maintain image integrity.(1)

Policy and procedures should include an archive plan and image integrity (security) plan. SOPs should also deal with the major challenges of digital photography. Major issues of digital imaging include: Who has access to the images? How will the images be stored and distributed? How will the images be printed? After the original images are archived, who can enhance and print the images? What audit trail of the images will be used? The best system will have a lot of these SOP issues automated.

The Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technologies, (SWGIT) sponsored by the FBI, is a good source for recommendations and suggestions on policy regarding SOPs. These recommendations can be found on the Internet. SWGIT lists the reasons for developing comprehensive SOPs as: to ensure consistency, quality, integrity, and repeatability of the digital imaging process.

DIMS, a digital image management software package by Linear Systems, was developed by analyzing digital SOPs. Linear analyzed many agencies’ SOPs and developed software to automate those essential processes.

The digital image management system software selected should not put an agency’s images into a proprietary format. Despite changing technology, the images should always be accessible. Digital management software manages the images by organizing file names, archiving an unchangeable image, placing the images on a server for access, and controlling access to those images. Images should be available even far into the future and consistent with new technology.

David Phillips established a system of minimum quality levels for the various units of the LVMPD who would be using digital cameras and designed that into the SOPs. Units using instant cameras or point-and-shoot cameras would require a different level of digital camera from those used by the crime scene unit. There is also a restriction to department issued cameras in the SOPs. “We wrote our SOPs to preclude any unit from using their own personal digital cameras, thus retaining the integrity of images entering into the system,” says Phillips.

A comprehensive training plan is necessary for digital conversion. Training for a larger agency also presents special problems during the conversion from film to digital. Training issues increase with a large agency due to the greater numbers of employees. Employees rotating in and out of specialized units require frequent training. The recurrent upgrade of cameras may also require more frequent training.

Training may be the single most effective method to convert reluctant or less computer literate individuals. Properly planned and conducted training can help individuals become more comfortable with the digital process and help reduce resistance by photographers reluctant to embrace the switch from film to digital.

Training in all areas of digital needs to be continuous which may present another funding issue. Training for DAs and prosecutors should also be considered just as testimony on acceptance of digital photography in the courtroom should be included in the training program for all employees using the system.

Installation Process
For a larger agency, it would be virtually impossible to switch all units over to digital at the same time. The best process is to implement the entire plan on a small scale. It is prudent to convert the small specialized units first. Units currently using instant photography and point and shoot cameras can act as test sites. The results can be analyzed to test infrastructure and policy and procedures to determine the most efficient methods.

The plan is to make film primary and digital secondary during the first phase. When that phase has been successful, an agency can gradually switch to digital as primary with film secondary and as a backup. When the total infrastructure is in place, and all components have been tested and are working successfully, the switch can be made to all digital.

Medium to large law enforcement agencies also have more issues for digital conversion because they have such a varied group of people. Employees from the computer generation are more amenable to digital cameras while some employees strongly prefer the status quo. The rest of the affected group’s sentiments usually lie somewhere in the middle.

An innovative tact taken by LVMPD was to recognize these three groups and plan conversion with them in mind. This recognition can be conducted with surveys or interviews. In a limited rollout approach to digital conversion, a typical method has been to issue only the more computer literate the digital cameras. However, this approach does nothing for the other two groups. The strategy developed by LVMPD was a limited rollout of digital cameras with half of the new units given to the computer literate and half to those who prefer film. This tact encourages both units to embrace the conversion process.

LVMPD’s comprehensive plan included a familiarization period and careful selection of individuals for a limited rollout of digital cameras. With most of the infrastructure (digital photo processors, DIMS digital image management software, and hardware) in place, digital cameras were issued in careful phases. First, acceptable resolution cameras were issued to certain specialized units and high resolution cameras were issued to the selected crime scene units. The photographers were instructed to familiarize themselves with the camera in personal situations first before ever using them on the job.

Another integral part of digital conversion should be the promotion of the project. Digital conversion can be an enhancement to the agency’s credibility and professional standing in the community. Project promotion should emphasize this aspect and should be a continuing process which will in turn, help with the continuing funding that is required for a project like digital conversion.

A medium to large agency has special considerations for the conversion from film to digital. If there are some lessons to be learned from the LVMPD project, they are that planning is the most important factor. Small details first. Affinity for digital should be a consideration for limited rollout of cameras. An extensive infrastructure should be in place first, including a sound computer network. SOPs should be developed and an equipment tier would be an advantage. Long term planning, training, and funding is a must for a large agency conversion project.

Digital is not only an eventuality; it is clean, efficient, easy, and cost effective. Eventually, all law enforcement agencies will convert to digital. The key is to be in control and follow a comprehensive plan.


1) http: // pdfs/digital_image_integrity.pdf.

About the Author
Steve Scarborough is a Latent Print Examiner for LVMPD and was instrumental in bringing digital imaging to the LVMPD Forensic Laboratory in 1998. Steve was recently recognized for his contributions to the field at Interpol’s International Forensic Science Symposium in Lyon, France. Steve can be reached at

Copyright ©2007 Vicon Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.
Re-posted on and distributed via the Weekly Detail with permission.
Original article reference:
Free Subscription to Qualified Forensic Professionals available at


Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners.  This is a free newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. With the exception of weeks such as this week, there are no copyrights on The Detail content.  As always, the website is open for all to visit!

If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox, go ahead and join the list now so you don't miss out!  (To join this free e-mail newsletter, enter your name and e-mail address on the following page:  You will be sent a Confirmation e-mail... just click on the link in that e-mail, or paste it into an Internet Explorer address bar, and you are signed up!)  If you have problems receiving the Detail from a work e-mail address, there have been past issues with department e-mail filters considering the Detail as potential unsolicited e-mail.  Try subscribing from a home e-mail address or contact your IT department to allow e-mails from Topica.  Members may unsubscribe at any time.  If you have difficulties with the sign-up process or have been inadvertently removed from the list, e-mail me personally at and I will try to work things out.

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

Have a GREAT week!