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Conclusions: differences vs conflicts
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Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page
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For discussion, visit the CLPEX.com forum FIG thread.
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thread with KEPT #25; Accreditations - Organizations
by Michelle Triplett. You can send your questions on
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Updated the Detail Archives
we heard about a talk about latent print examination at
the Maryland State Bar Association's annual meeting.
we consider quality assurance policies and procedures related to differences
of opinion / conflicting conclusions in latent print examination.
Conclusions: Differences Versus Conflicts
Michelle Triplett and Kasey Wertheim
Posts to CLPEX.com forum on June 22, 2008
(Quoted from another thread - referring to the FBI procedures) "If there is
not a unanimous opinion as to a particular conclusion, the supervisor
institutes conflict resolution procedures according to Standard Operating
I’ve seen that people have different perceptions of this idea and I’m
looking for a little clarification (not on FBI policies but on everyone’s
understanding of this).
Version 1: The statement above makes it sound like all ‘differing’
conclusions go to conflict resolution. This included one person making an
identification but another person states ‘no ID effected’ or even a
conclusion of exclusion. The SWGFAST statements seem to support this view.
This implies that ‘different’ conclusions are the same as ‘conflicting’
Version 2: I recently heard from a supervisor of an ASCLD/Lab accredited
agency and he stated that ‘differences are ok as long as they aren’t
conflicting. Differences can be due to ability and/or tolerance levels’.
This implies that there’s a difference between ‘differing’ and ‘conflicting’
Do more people side with the first view or the second? Does ASCLD/Lab have a
view on ‘differences of opinions’ v ‘conflicts’ (I’m not from an accredited
lab, that’s why I’m asking)? Do all differences (even minor oversights) have
to go to conflict resolution? If Examiner #1 excludes and the verifier finds
the ID and brings it back to Examiner #1, who now sees that in fact it is an
ID, can’t this just be noted or does it still need to go through a conflict
If agencies have polices stating that ‘all conflicts need to go to conflict
resolution’, does that mean ‘all differing conclusions’ go through conflict
resolution? Does each agency define a ‘conflict’ differently or is there one
general accepted meaning and the supervisor above (in version 2)
misunderstands the common usage?
This could even be taken a step further, if someone makes an ID and then the
verifier shows them why it's not an ID (an erroneous Identification), is
this only a problem if the original examiner stands by their decision
(making conflicting conclusions)? And it's not a problem if the original
examiner changes their conclusion (making this more of an oversight than an
For some reason I'm drawn to the concepts of quality assurance and quality
control as they relate to differences and conflicts. I think part of my
interest stems from involvement in several such cases. I have missed ID's
and found ID's others have missed, but we would probably all argue this
eventually happens to us all. I have been the examiner that found an
erroneous identification and I have seen an erroneous exclusion on a good
identification that I made. In both of these cases, the examiners are still
employed in active casework - I think the day of sacrificing the examiner
for a single mistake are over and that instead we are turning to standard
procedures and policies that guide our actions. Although I haven't made an
erroneous identification, I have pushed too far into what I later considered
to be a gray area of sufficiency that I should have stayed away from. Since
then I have seen examples of other high profile "identifications" that have
also pushed way too far into this area where in fact there isn't sufficient
quality/quantity to disprove the claim of "identification"... but there
isn't enough there to justify it either.
It is impossible to look into this variety of non-standard scenarios and
attempt to further break them down into acceptable / unacceptable, or major
/ minor. SWGFAST has taken the approach that anything other than unanimity
deserves at least a quality review. And in defining quality review, they
allow for what most would consider the bare bones - review the documentation
(which anyone would do anyway), re-examination (which would occur anyway),
Determination of a conclusion to report (which would also naturally occur),
determination of the seriousness and corrective action if appropriate, and
Determination of the root cause of the conflicting conclusions. For the
simplest case, the root cause might simply be the inexperience of the
inconclusive examiner. For difficult cases, establishment of the root cause
might be extremely time consuming and center on specific distortions or
similarities within the impressions (Mayfield comes to mind), inadequacy of
the agency's training program, failing eyesight or expired eyewear
prescriptions, or any host of other things.
Having been in a supervisory position, I appreciated knowing about
non-standard issues. If two examiners worked something out amongst
themselves without my involvement I considered that fine, as long as I knew
about it. SWGFAST states that each element of the quality review must be
documented. This gives the administrator the information or duty to find the
information necessary to make an informed decision about corrective action.
Mind you, there is no guidance on corrective action - just that it should be
considered and administered as deemed appropriate by the supervisor or
agency in that particular case.
In one of your examples, you mention Examiner 1 excluding, the verifier
finding it and taking it back to Examiner 1, who subsequently sees it and
agrees with the ID. As a supervisor, I consider each one of the SWGFAST
elements important to see noted in such a case. I would definitely be
interested in Examiner #1's thoughts on the cause of the miss, how seriously
they took it, etc. I would also be interested in the reviewer's thoughts on
whether corrective action was necessary, how serious they thought it was,
etc. Over time, trends within these "notes" (which are really QA
documentation) could potentially lead the identification of root causes not
previously considered, and could prompt appropriate corrective action that
would have otherwise been overlooked.
Documentation of the seriousness of the situation also addresses your last
scenario involving sustained conflicting conclusions. Both examiners would
probably rate more serious the scenario where they remained conflicted than
where they ended up agreeing. Of course each examiner would document
differently the conclusion they thought should be reported, so
identification of this scenario would be pretty obvious if the agency
required each examiner to complete and document a short quality review.
I am also unfamiliar with ASCLD/LAB views, but if this issue is like most
others, they simply look at your policies and establish whether you follow
them. If you use more than one word in your policies and procedures to
define non-standard results, then you should have clearly defined
documentation, quality review, and corrective actions for each one. I think
the ASCLD/LAB supervisor you spoke with personally considered less (or no)
documentation required when an inconclusive determination was involved. But
the personal consideration of an ASCLD/LAB supervisor is very different from
what they would require of your agency when assessing whether your policies
and procedures are being followed. That same inspector upon seeing your
definition is supposed to grade you based on that, not his/her preferences.
I also think that decisions involving inconclusive determinations can be
abused by employees if clear policies are not in place. I have heard of
examiners taking the easy way out and employers having no recourse due to
the inadequacy of their policies and procedures in this area. If everything
is set up correctly, I think the SWGFAST model provides for the
identification of trends necessary to support corrective action up to and
including disciplinary action and termination. This brings up the 3 D's...
documentation, documentation, and documentation.
Could anyone share a Quality Review Checksheet for completion by examiners
involved in a non-unanimous style "conflict"?
(to respond to the Detail topic, visit the CLPEX.com forum and join in the
Keeping Examiners Prepared for Testimony - #25
Accreditation - Organizations
by Michele Triplett, King County
The intent of this is to provide thought provoking discussion.
No claims of accuracy exist.
Are you accredited?
Yes, by ASCLD
Yes, by ASCLD/LAB
Yes, we’re accredited by the International
Organization for Standardization (ISO)
Yes, we’re accredited by International Standards
Using acronyms is always discouraged because the people
you’re trying to educate (the courts) don’t know what these acronyms stand
Stating that your lab isn’t accredited may be the correct answer but
it leaves the courts feeling like you aren’t meeting the responsibilities
that you should be meeting. If
your lab isn’t accredited but you feel that it is meeting the
responsibilities that it should then perhaps you could say, “No, my lab
isn’t accredited but we do have quality assurance measure in place and we
follow the guidelines set by SWGFAST (The Scientific Working Group for
Friction Ridge Analysis, Study, and Technology)”.
Answers b and c: ASCLD/LAB is one of the
organizations that offer accreditation to agencies.
If you are accredited by ASCLD/LAB
you should use the complete name in court,
American Society of Crime
Laboratory Directors / Laboratory Accreditation Board.
Forensic Quality Services (FQS) is another company that accredits
forensic laboratories. It should be
noted that ASCLD is different than ASCLD/LAB.
ASCLD does not accredit agencies.
ASCLD/LAB has two accreditation programs, Legacy and International.
The ASCLD/LAB International program and the FQS program both adhere to the
ISO standards, but ISO doesn’t directly accredit laboratories.
Answer e: ISO stands for International
Organization for Standardization.
Stating the wrong words for an acronym will lower the value of your
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