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 5, 2009

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...

by Stephanie Potter

Clues lead to arrest on child-sex, burglary, drug charges
Daily Comet 09-30-09
But in the end, investigators said, it was old-fashioned detective work and use of fingerprints that paid off. “It's classic police work,” Thibodaux Police ...

Man says cops lied about fingerprinting him
ChicagoNow (blog) 09-30-09
A Chicago man is suing the city after a case of mistaken identity where, the man says, an officer lied to the court about his fingerprints matching those of ...

Pair jailed over car cocaine deal
BBC News 10-02-09
... that in follow-up searches, officers found a further kilogram and a half under the kitchen table in Kenny's home which had his finger prints on it. ...

Perez murder trial stretches towards a fourth week
Cayman News Service - Cayman Brac,Cayman Islands
Defence counsel has argued that the defendant had visited Gareau's home only a few weeks before the murder as a guest at a BBQ and that the latent prints ...

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

Public CLPEX Message Board
Moderated by Steve Everist

IAI Conference Topics -
Tampa Bay, Florida - 2009:
Moderator: Steve Everist

No new posts

Documentation issues as they apply to latent prints
Moderator: Charles Parker

No new posts
Historical topics related to latent print examination
Moderator: Charles Parker

No new posts



Updated the Detail Archives

Last week

we looked at the revised SWGFAST Draft for comment, Standards for Minimum Qualifications and Training to Competency for Friction Ridge Examiner Trainees (Latent/Tenprint)


This week

we see Drs. Lyn and Ralph Haber's response to my comments on their written testimony.


Response to Kasey Wertheim's Comments on the Habers' US Senate Testimony

From The Detail, Issue 422, September 22, 2009.

Prepared by Ralph and Lyn Haber, October 3, 2009


            Issue #422 of the Detail reprinted our testimony of September 9, 2009 to the US Senate in support of the creation of a National Institute for Forensic Sciences.  Appended to that reprint in the Detail were some comments written by Kasey Wertheim. What follows is our response to Kasey's concerns.  We welcome this dialogue as a chance to learn about others' reactions, and for others to learn more about our concerns regarding fingerprint science.


            Quality Control of Training, Proficiency, Method, and Laboratory

            Our concerns focus on quality control assurances of the training and experience of forensic examiners, their proficiency in the performance of forensic comparisons, the accuracy of the method(s) used to make those comparisons, and the regulations governing the crime laboratory environments in which they work.  Our examples refer to forensic fingerprint comparisons and examiners, but (with some exceptions of DNA work) these concerns pertain to all of the forensic comparison disciplines: fingerprints, blood spatters, hair, faces, bite marks, tool marks, bullets, tire tracks, footprints, speech, questioned documents, handwriting)


            Forensic comparison experts, unlike other scientific experts in other disciplines, are not required by their profession to be certified or board-approved to offer testimony in court.  Unlike other scientific experts in other disciplines, forensic comparison examiners are not required to have their proficiency tested at regular intervals and are permitted to carry out their comparison work in un-accredited laboratories.   Unlike other scientific disciplines, forensic comparison lacks profession-approved, standardized manuals on training, procedures, and quality control. 


            Kasey challenged these statements as overstated, wrong, or worse.  We, like Kasey, know many examiners who are highly trained, experienced and proficient.  We agree that an unknown number of crime laboratories have written training guidelines, and/or documented minimum requirements for proceeding from training on to casework, and/or some sort of operations manual. We are not referring to individual fingerprint examiners or individual crime laboratories.  We refer to the absence of standardized requirements for the profession as a whole.   


            Regulations and policy statements issued by official bodies of the forensic comparison professions rely on the word "recommended" in their statements.  There are three problems with that wording: the content of the recommendation is not "required," it is not necessarily observed, and there is no procedure in place to enforce it.  Examiners who provide testimony in court, in our experience, may or may not work in an accredited laboratory, few are at least annually proficiency tested, few are certified, and they may or may not have graduated from a formal training program or been taught by a "trained" trainer.  We are not referring to individual examiners or to individual laboratories.  A National Institute for Forensic Sciences (NIFS) would serve to assure standardized requirements for the profession as a whole.

            The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report from last spring observed that all of these requirements were missing, and that all of them should be in place as requirements to work as forensic comparison examiners in forensic crime laboratories. 


Unknown Counts of Forensic Comparison Examiners and Forensic Laboratories

            The NAS noted that no accurate count exists today of the laboratories in the United States in which forensic comparisons are performed.  Based on data compiled by the IAI that we discussed in our testimony, it is possible that the number of crime laboratories in which forensic comparisons are performed might exceed those accredited by 10 or 20 fold.   Similarly, there is no accurate count of the persons performing forensic comparisons, but the number substantially exceeds the number of IAI members.  Within the IAI membership, approximately 15% of those who identify themselves as latent print examiners are certified.  Until that database is created, the ratio of accredited to non-accredited laboratories, and the ratio of IAI-certified to non-certified examiners is unknown, but is substantially less than 15%. 


            There has been widespread support for the NAS recommendations that all forensic examiners meet the certification requirements of their profession, and that all laboratories that perform forensic examinations be accredited by a single body. The forensic fingerprint profession needs a National Institute for Forensic Sciences to provide the assurance that laboratories and examiners are part of a known database, and that they have met mandatory requirements accepted by the profession.


Evidence of Reliability and Validity


            Kasey asserts that "absence of proof is not proof of absence" in response to our testimony that there is no evidence of the reliability or validity of the proficiency tests presently in use, there is no evidence of the reliability or validity of the certification tests presently in use, and there is no evidence of the reliability and validity of the ACE method itself.  In the absence of affirmative evidence, Kasey argues that these may still be reliable and valid.

            First, evidence of reliability and validity are standard requirements for any claimed scientific procedure.  If a comparison method is to be used, it is necessary (from the viewpoint of science) that the reliability of the method be demonstrated (conclusions are consistent and in agreement), and that the validity of the method be demonstrated (the test scores agree with ground truth).  These requirements are codified by the US Supreme Court in the Daubert criteria to meet scientific tests.  The same demands apply to proficiency and certification tests. 


            Second, if a scientific paper is submitted for publication, the reliability and validity of every test, every experimental manipulation, and every scoring procedure must be demonstrated.  Otherwise, the paper is returned to the author automatically as unsuitable for publication. The publisher does not conclude that the absence of evidence of reliability might mean the data are reliable: the publisher demands that the author show that it is reliable before consideration of publication is entertained.  This is the publisher's quality control assurance that only good science gets distributed.

If the forensic professions claim to use scientific methods and scientific quality control procedures, the reliability and validity of the methods and procedures must be demonstrated.  We claim that there is no evidence to support the reliability and validity of the ACE method, or proficiency and certification tests in use.  Kasey's appeal to "absence of proof is not proof of absence" is non responsive.  The answer is to provide the evidence.


           A proficiency (or certification) test is informative only if the test is reliable and valid.  The test is reliable if the score received by an examiner can be trusted as the examiner's consistent and true score, and not one that would be different every time the examiner takes a comparable test.  The easiest way to measure reliability is to divide the test items (latents on proficiency tests) into two halves, and compare the score received on the first half with that from the second half.  A reliable test would show a comparable score for a testee on each half.  A more time consuming method to measure reliability would be to make up two versions of the same test (assuring comparability of the difficulty of the test items), and then compare the scores a testee received on each version.  Both of these are standard procedures, and provide a standardized measure of the error of measurement in the final score.  If the error of measurement is very low (both versions produce the same score), then the test is reliable, and trustworthy. 


            We have never seen a measure of reliability of a forensic proficiency or certification test.

To be valid, a test must first be reliable. Then it must be demonstrated that the test measures what it is supposed to measure.  If the test is a fingerprint comparison proficiency test, then high scores should be correlated with other measures of proficiency recognized by the profession, such as scores on a valid certification test, supervisor ratings, or years of practice.  If the proficiency test does not correlate highly with these other measures of proficiency, then the test is not valid.


            We have never seen a measure of validity of a forensic proficiency or certification test.


            Other Evidence of Reliability and Validity of Proficiency and Certification Tests

The statistical measurements of the reliability and validity of the CTS proficiency test and the IAI certification test have never been reported or demonstrated.  However, we have evaluated these tests in detail (see L. Haber, and R.N. Haber, "Challenges to Fingerprints," 2009, published by Lawyers and Publishers Co, Tucson, AZ) based on evidence published by CTS and IAI, as well as our analyses of the test construction and administration.  We conclude that the reliability of both of these tests, if demonstrated, would be poor (lower than is useful for testing purposes), and that the validity of these tests will be below a scientifically useful standard.  We offer a very brief overview here, listing some of the criteria that predict good reliability and validity.


            A test can be reliable only if the scores of those who are tested range from most items correct to most items wrong.  The recent years of the CTS tests have average scores above 90% correct, and some approach 100% correct.  When nearly every testee achieves the same score, a test is worthless for predictive purposes. The range of scores on the IAI certification test have never been disclosed.


            A test is more likely to be valid the more its content resembles the tasks being predicted.  Neither of the two tests meet this criterion.  For example, most casework results in exclusions or inconclusive results, but neither of these are the typical outcomes of the proficiency or certification tests;  a substantial part of casework requires the intervention of AFIS searches (preparation of the latent for inputting, and comparison of the original latent to outputted candidates, but no such requirements occur on these tests;  casework involves latents of no value or of great difficulty, but such latents are rarely included on these tests. 


            A test is most likely to be valid if procedures used on the test mirror those on the tasks to be predicted.  Every CTS proficiency test fails this criterion.  SWGFAST restricts the examiner conclusions to one of only four possibilities: no value, exclusion, inconclusive, or identification. However, on the CTS proficiency tests, only two conclusions are permitted: identification or not identified.  No value and insufficient are not allowed.  Further, the “Not identified” conclusion is not one of the SWGFAST conclusions.  The test responses do not correspond to normal casework.


            A test is most likely to be valid if it is scored in the same way casework would be scored (if ground truth were known).  The CTS proficiency test fails this criterion.  An unknown number of the CTS tests are taken by a committee of two or more examiners, who report an identification only if each member of the committee agrees.  In these instances, the scores reported by CTS are committee scores, not individual scores.  It is easy to show that the individual proficiency of each member of a committee is much lower than the committee proficiency.  The CTS does not distinguish between answer sheets as committee or individual when reporting their results, which inflates any estimate of individual proficiency based on these scores.  Another scoring issue concerns the types of responses assessed. “Not identified” is ambiguous and cannot be scored to assess accuracy: did the examiner exclude the particular exemplar, or was he unable to reach a definitive conclusion?  Examiner accuracy in no value and inconclusive conclusions is not assessed.  Only the number of erroneous identifications is scored, yet identification is probably the least frequent conclusion an examiner reaches in casework.  Further, this scoring procedure ignores the importance of exclusions in the work of forensic comparisons.\


            A test is most likely to be reliable and valid if the individual test items are homogeneous, or, if not homogeneous, have been subdivided into distinguishable categories ahead of time.  The CTS and IAI tests both fail this criterion.  Homogeneous in this context means that all of the items in any part of the test are equivalent in content, difficulty, and required technique.  If the test includes multiple categories of test items, indicating multiple skills or skill levels, then the items need to be subdivided accordingly before hand, so they can be scored separately.  Since there is no measure of the difficulty of a latent print, there is no measure of the reasons why one print differs from another print or why different techniques are required.  Consequently, there is no independent way to determine which items to score together for a particular skill or skill level.


            A test is most likely to produce reliable and valid results if the testees are randomly drawn from the population to be predicted.  The CTS proficiency test fails this criterion.  CTS does not provide information about who takes their test, about how many times an individual examiner has taken a test, or any measure of the representativeness of the sample of testees from among all examiners.  The average score on any test means nothing unless the characteristics of the people being tested are precisely known.  (As an example, suppose one year the majority of people taking the proficiency test were beginning examiners and the average scores were low.   The next year nearly all the people taking an equivalent test were very highly trained and the average score was very high.  Unless you knew that the population of people taking the test had changed, you might incorrectly attribute the change in average score to improved examiner proficiency or to easier test items.)


            These are a few of the criteria that we used to evaluate the proficiency and certification tests.  Some of the flaws in the current tests can be corrected with simple changes in content or procedure.  Others require substantial research programs, such as developing a valid measure of latent print informativeness and clarity.  Kasey asserts that the Certification boards have standard baselines that are aligned with the IAI mission.  His comment does not address the failures in the construction, scoring and administration of these tests, all of which must be addressed if these tests are to be reliable and valid. 


No-Value Latents


            Kasey objects to our statement that no-value latents are not used for comparisons for the purpose of excluding a suspect.  Kasey writes "In many laboratories, impressions that are not suitable for identification may still be compared to exclude the subject as the potential donor of the impression." This objection takes our words out of context and misstates our point.  Our point is that no objective measure of the value of a latent for identification or for exclusion has been developed, tested, and validated.  It is presently a subjective judgment, resulting in substantial variation among examiners.


            In our book, but not our testimony, we assess in detail the need for an objective measure of the value of a latent that can be used for exclusion but not for identification, as well as an objective measure of the value of a latent and that can be used for identification.  We agree with Kasey that "impressions that are not suitable for identification may still be compared to exclude the subject as a potential donor…” Again, to make this judgment reliable and valid, there must be an objective measure of the amount and kind of information needed in an impression to use it to exclude and/or identify, with a known probability of error.


Research Documentation of the Accuracy of Forensic Comparisons is Needed


            One of the virtually unanimous reactions by the forensic professions to the NAS report is agreement that more research is needed. To fulfill this goal, the forensic comparison professions need the following.


            The collaboration between researchers and crime laboratories to discuss, design and participate in research on forensic comparison issues.

The commitment of crime laboratories and their examiners to partake in research work, and the commitment of research scientists to work under real-world constraints.


            A number of experimental researchers trained in experimental research who are also interested in and knowledgeable about forensic issues. 

Agreements that protect anonymity of individual participants in forensic research while allowing results to be published


            An advocate for research within the forensic professions and within the governmental agencies responsible for the forensic comparison professions.

Funding for the research team and for the released time of examiners in laboratories

            The IAI Science and Practice committees and the FBI SWG committees have made number of excellent recommendations that would answer our research concerns.  We testified to Congress in support of the NIFS because the NIFS would facilitate or make possible the creation of a research environment within the forensic professions, an environment not present today.  Our goal is the same as Kasey's: to improve the professions of forensic comparison examinations to meet the needs of society and the courts.  A National Institute of Forensic Sciences would provide a means of realizing this goal across laboratories and forensic disciplines.



Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners for Fair Use.  This is a not-for-profit newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. 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!

View Archives