mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Monday, August 19, 2002 - 12:25 pm: ||
As the person who began this discussion, I would like to thank Mr. Smith for his eloquent and informative response. I believe you have addressed every concern I had about untrained people being led to believe they could learn what they needed to know with two days of training. As you stated in the brochure, "it greatly rewards the experienced, knowledgeable examiner".
|Posted on Saturday, August 17, 2002 - 07:48 pm: ||
To All Those Concerned!
I've recently retired as Associate Director of the Mississippi Crime laboratory and therefore can now participate openly in forum discussions. I've wanted to participate for quite sometime but did not feel as if it would be proper since I was in a management position with my agency.
I assure each of you that I was REALLY wanting to contribute to this discussion since I was most probably one of the "Fingerprint Experts" that were referred to in the comments.
From reading all of the discussions, it appears that there seems to be a general consensus that unqualified persons should not be arriving at identity conclusions using a PC AFIS system. I could not agree more. As an instructor who has lectured on the subject of palmprint/fingerprint comparison and identification in forty-six states and numerous other countries, I understand more than most what is really happening out there in the criminal justice community. It is a very scary thing to see what being a "fingerprint expert" has become in some of our agencies across the country. I'm not talking about detective PC AFIS operators, I'm talking about court qualified fingerprint experts!!! "Training to Competency" is a phrase quite foreign to some agencies and we all need to continue to be diligent in our defense of the science and those that practice it.
Having said that, let me address the subject of PC AFIS systems. As many of you know, for years I had been attempting to push the mainstream AFIS vendors to make automated palm print searching possible. It is finally coming around and I'm excited about what that will mean to the criminal justice agencies around the world. As this process was taking place, the development of PC based AFIS systems was happening concurrently and I started to pay very close attention to how those systems operated and how they could be applied to build and search latent palm prints. I found that not only were they affordable, but based on my early evaluations, seemed to be quite accurate as well. It is during this time that I began to seek out a PC based AFIS company that I could approach to develop a PC based palm print system that would incorporate my knowledge of palms and enable latent print examiners to use their considerable knowledge of the science without penalizing the less experienced examiner. I found that company. It happens to be the same company that has the advertisements that have stated "Examiners and Detectives with very little computer experience are entering ten-prints, palms, and crime scene latents--making hits and closing cases after only two days of training (included with the system.)". They intended for the reader to understand that the operator did not have to be a computer guru to use the system. It was never intended to indicate that a detective could reach a conclusion of IDENTITY without a qualified examiner looking at the results of the search. It only meant that detectives could use the system because of its simplicity, and that is a completely true statement. I have carefully reviewed this statement and when it is taken out of context, I understand that it could be misunderstood and I have suggested to that company that they reword it in the future to avoid any misdunderstanding.
If any of you have a current advertising brochure from that company, you will also find that it mentions the word "examiner" at least ten (10) times, which is referring to a qualified person, capable of reaching an identity conclusion. The inside of the brochure has the large heading "THE LATENT PRINT EXAMINERS' AFIS". Maybe this will solve the problem, if the problem is one of understanding the intention of a sales brochure.
If the problem is actually one of how to insure, the best that is possible, that PC based systems are not misused by agencies which can afford them because of the reasonable price, then that indeed is another problem. As an examiner for almost thirty years, I have a love and respect for this profession that I would suggest is as strong as any out there. I would never suggest that we sacrifice one ounce of accuracy when it comes to the identification of a latent print. Identifications which may result in a person being arrested and incarcerated must be made by a qualified examiner, which may or not be an IAI Certified Latent Print Examiner, as long as they are qualified. I strongly urge an agency which is considering the purchase of a PC based AFIS system to make sure that any suspected identifications be forwarded to a qualified examiner for examination. I didn't say verification, I said examination! They cannot verify what has never been officially identified! If an agency without a qualified examiner is not willing to get their search results examined by an outside qualified examiner, then they should not even consider the purchase of a PC based AFIS system. As I explain to agencies which contact me directly about the purchase of a PC based AFIS system, one error committed due to an agency's carelessness can result in a law suit far in excess of their yearly budget!
On the other hand, I fully support the purchase of a PC based AFIS system for the local needs of an agency. History has proven conclusively, that LOCAL AFIS is a fantastic tool which results in more latents being identified and more cases being solved. When used wisely and efficiently, it can become one of the greatest weapons against crime in the department. The key is training. If the operator is a qualified latent print examiner, then the training encompasses the system operation only. If the operator is not a qualified latent print examiner then the training must include system operation along with extensive training on the limitations of the search results. It must include the development of a plan of transmission of the highest scoring candidates to a qualified examiner for examination. As a trainer for a PC Based AFIS Company, I suggest the following.
1. The operator training should be conducted by a qualified latent print examiner. (Preferably an IAI Certified Latent Print Examiner, but not absolutely necessary). This is necessary because an evaluation of the operator(s) must be conducted prior to the training to determine their knowledge of the the science of fingerprints/palm prints. Required to "Tailor Make" the training to fit the student.
2. The training must include a thorough discussion of the ACE-V methodology and how it applies to automated searching. Special emphasis must be placed on identification by a qualified latent print examiner and verfification by another qualified examiner.
3. If the operator is not a qualified latent print examiner, then a system of transmission needs to be developed and implemented.
4. If the operator agency wishes to email the best candidate to a qualified latent print examiner, then the latent print examiner should not issue an official report until they have received the original evidence from the operator's agency.
5. The operator's agency should not make an arrest until they have received the formal identification report from the agency of the latent print examiner.
If these simple guidelines are followed carefully, then we in the criminal justice community can have the best of both worlds. We can have accuracy in the identification process, along with a significantly larger number of cases being solved. There is absolutely no reason that we cannot have both. As always, these issues are not one of technology, but of integrity and professionalism. I appreciate your patience in reading this long winded response. I'll try to be shorter next time. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them.
|Posted on Wednesday, August 07, 2002 - 08:47 pm: ||
I have spoken with one agency that does employ volunteers and interns for the 10 print and Palm print AFIS entry. All Latents entries, searches, and "hits" are reveiwed by the department's CSS/Latent ID officers. This agency for that year averaged 0ut at one Good Identification/Hit for every 21 person entered into the system. Unfortunately, at my department we have neither the personnel nor the ability to use volunteers/interns to do 10 print &/or palm print entry. If we did we would probably get more "hits" and clear more cases. I think the bottom line is that any "hit" should be comfirmed or negated by the department's ID officers who are trained to make these determinations.
Also, why does it have to be a certified latent print examiner? why can't it just be a latent print examiner with sufficient time, training, and experience to make the identifications and confirmations. I have 12 years experience doing crime scene and latent print work, but due to the size of my dept. and budget restrictions they won't pay for the certification testing.
On the subject of PC based systems, why are you limiting this forum to entry on PC based systems? Are there sometype of specific safe guards in place to prevent someone with only 2 or 3 days training from entering prints? I've been around both types of systems for several years and have frankly found that the PC based system we purchased works better than the state system we have available.
|Posted on Monday, August 05, 2002 - 01:43 pm: ||
Mr. Gorman; we purchased one of the very first pc based systems installed and like every agency, our afis situation is unique and tailored to our needs and resources. Our lab has two CLPE's and our experience with untrained users has been when we bring in field personnel for some additonal TI training and put them on the afis for a while. Without any discredit to their intelligence or enthusiasm, I firmly agree that a 40+ hour basic class is essential, the issue is not running the computer but having at least a basic understanding of what you are doing and I say this as it relates to entering quality ten-prints only! When dealing with latents we concern ourselves with a myriad of hurdles in correctly identifying and plotting minutae for comparison and identification. Without proper training and supervised experience, our "trainees" were not able to recognize and competently enter average ten-prints much less work with typical latent cards.
|Posted on Sunday, July 21, 2002 - 02:17 am: ||
I would like to pose a Question reguarding the use of the user friendly PC based afis/Iafis.
Does this user friendly afis appeal to the managers desire to have more control and less annual operating budget and therefore sacrifice the ethics of the profession in exchange for economy?
An agency can hire two or three pc friendly operators for what it may cost to have one fingerprint examiner. The final say on individualism would be in the Certified LFPE.
In my case I was in crimescene and did initial idents a job I loved. I was retired and pc operators were hired for afis and digital media. I get a check from the county and enjoy taking care of my kids, while the county shells out less pay and benefits for the pc operators. I loved my job so I am curious about your points of view.
Is technology serving our profession in a way that we as latent fingerprint examiners can show the average juror so they will understand and accept our methods and conclusions.
C. B. Dew
|Posted on Wednesday, June 19, 2002 - 01:51 pm: ||
I work in a small agency that uses a PC based AFIS. We have two latent print examiners and a part-time AFIS Technician. We do not have a state AFIS workstation, so we must rely on another agency for a statewide search.
Our AFIS Technician is not a latent print examiner. This person's responsibility is to enter tenprint and palm cards, classify, and plot the minutia. The technician also enters latent prints from crime scene lifts and searches them, but does not evaluate the search results. This process allows the examiners to save time by not entering and ploting. Our AFIS allows the examiner to see the minutia plotted by the technician and if errors are present, they can be corrected and a new search performed.
Because the PC based AFIS systems are very simple to use, technicians can be trained to operate the system in a short period of time. The results of their searches should always be evaluated by qualified examiners BEFORE anyone is arrested. The use of e-mail and the internet for the transmission of latent and known prints can provide a rapid means of identification by qualified examiners in serious cases. I have submitted identifications (always high resolution of 1000 ppi or better) for verification by e-mail to other examiners and I have not run into problems.
The PC based AFIS systems are very valuable because they do allow individualizations (identifications) to be made that would not be made on larger systems. At my agency, a serial bank robber was identified as a result of the PC AFIS search. The state AFIS search of the same latent did not return the suspect as a respondent. Also, the state AFIS cannot search palms where our PC AFIS can.
I do feel that all non-examiner users should be aware of the consequenses of erroneous identifications and the vendors should assist with this. I strongly recommend that SWGFAST develop standards that relate to AFIS Technicians.
mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2002 - 08:29 am: ||
I absolutely agree with the webmaster that "training to competency" is what we should be looking for. That is what I was suggesting (or that qualified people--be they ten-print or latent--use the pc based equipment). Another interesting problem would be, if the untrained person makes an "individualization" would the latent examiner make a verification (as stated previously), or are they making the initial ident? Then, of course, they would need a second.
Sorry to see Mr. Hamm drop out of the conversation.
|Posted on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 09:38 pm: ||
I could not find another avenue outside of this current thread, so this is posted here.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
There are interesting and controversial avenues for discussion, but it has become too difficult. There are too many intimidators (for others, not me), lemmings, groupies and windmills. I will be ‘lurking’ and, if you display an address, I may respond to your post if I feel I can contribute to your area of interest, but there will be no further public postings. Otherwise, if anyone out there needs any assistance that I may be able to provide, please contact me at my e-mail address.
Royce D. Wilson
|Posted on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 09:04 pm: ||
I think the overriding concern here is that, as Mary Ellen alluded to initially, there are latent print experts endorsing companies that purport to have a system that can be effectively operated by persons with nothing more than 2 days of training.
I would think that these endorsements would alarm anyone in the field who has fought the good fight to convince administrators in their organization that the field of fingerprints is a science. The linchpin of this argument has to be the years of training and education required for a person to achieve the necessary level of expertise in order to perform the comparison and identification (or elimination) of two prints.
If these same experts are now saying that anyone with 2 days of training can enter minutiae, launch a search, and make a preliminary determination ( or whatever terminology they may use) before a trained expert must verify their findings, the next logical step in the thought process of a manager is that perhaps the level of difficulty in doing this job is not as it has been represented.
I applaud Mary Ellen for raising this topic of discussion. Although I advanced into the field of management some years ago, I have remained involved in the field of fingerprints, and I have worked with Mary Ellen for over 20 years now, and know her to be conscientious and dedicated to her field. Her concerns are well based and, in my opinion, in need of attention. I myself began in the field when we were considered little more than clerical personnel, and would hate to see it revert to that same level because of a misunderstanding.
|Posted on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 06:28 pm: ||
Excellent commentary folks. I seldom desire to stir the pot, and this time I think I have by failing to accurately convey my meaning.
What I meant about people being erroneously killed by police officers firing guns is that it does and will continue to occasionally occur... despite very good training, professional standards and all the controls we have. In any field of human endeavor there will always be oversights. To pretend that mistakes will not occasionally occur is futile.
If we wanted absolutely zero accidental police shooting deaths... we would have to take away police guns. Those very few erroneous deaths are the cost of doing business in our modern world. Those deaths make headlines when reported because it is rare and detested by everyone with common sense. Reality is that the next accidental shooting victim could be you, me, or one of our loved ones. Standards and controls in place hopefully make it more likely that lightning will strike us. The value afforded society through the ratio of valid police shootings versus erroneous killings outweighs the risk for now. However, we must all be vigilant and institute new standards and controls when new risks or problem trends are identified.
What I meant about people being erroneously jailed temporarily from fingerprint errors is that it does and will continue to occasionally occur... despite very good training, professional standards and all the controls we have. In any field of human endeavor there will always be oversights. To pretend that mistakes will not occasionally occur is futile.
If we wanted absolutely zero erroneous FP ID jailings... we would have to stop making identifications. Those very few erroneous temporary jailings are the cost of doing business in our modern world. Those mistakes make headlines when reported because it is rare and detested by everyone with common sense. Reality is that the next erroneous jailing victim due to a fingerprint error could be you, me, or one of our loved ones. Standards and controls in place hopefully make it more likely that lightning will strike us. The value afforded society through the ratio of valid FP identifications versus errors outweighs the risk for now. However, we must all be vigilant and institute new standards and controls when new risks or problems are identified.
I think what I am hearing is that new risks and a potential problem trend might exist involving minimally trained AFIS technicians. Easy comparisons (like obvious color changes in a field drug test) could probably be forwarded appropriately by most technicians to a CLPE for verification. The borderline comparisons (like borderline/weak color changes in a field drug test) may be mishandled either to the detriment of an innocent “suspect” or the detriment of society (due to missed idents).
I am not saying don’t worry about it. I am saying let’s work constructively toward guiding the applications and procedures accompanying new mini-AFIS technology. How about working to establish recommended "training to competency" standards for AFIS (non-CLPE) technicians working with latent prints? At www.swgfast.org or www.theiai.org you can make recommendations for development of such standards.
mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 09:13 am: ||
for the webmaster: Incidentally, we wouldn't have to take guns from the police officers, as they receive adequate training before they can use a gun and are proficiency tested regularly to avoid the shooting of innocents. Also, drug field testing kits only require you to distinguish color--quite different than distinguishing points of identity.
mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Monday, June 17, 2002 - 08:47 am: ||
I have no problem with someone trained in fingerprints (even minimally) using a pc based afis system. What I do have a problem with, is people untrained at all in fingerprints using the system. Can they learn in the company's two-day training period to edit minutia, plot points, recognize an identification, etc.?
At a conference I attended, Mr. Meagher of the FBI stated that he did not like giving out the certificates for the 40 hr. training classes for Basic Fingerprint Classification and the Advanced Latent Print Identification because then people assumed they could do the job. Of course, we all know it takes much additional training to do the job. I believe anyone who uses the pc based afis system should have training in fingerprints, even if the final verification is made by a latent print examiner.
|Posted on Sunday, June 16, 2002 - 07:53 pm: ||
Ed German makes some good points regarding the use of local PC based AFIS programs. The capability of some local systems being operated by ‘trained’ individuals could be of valuable assistance to law enforcement. There are probably many instances in which a ‘monkey print’ (a print that could be identified by a monkey) would not be a problem if hit on by a PC based AFIS program and would take a criminal off the streets. The value of such systems should not be downplayed, only understood.
However, NO ONE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD BE TEMPORARILY JAILED because of an error. Safeguards should be in place with a cooperative effort to verify identifications before any action is taken. I was once presenting a class at a local police agency that had their own examiner when there was excitement because their local had made an ident (direct comparison, no AFIS support) on an offense that morning. Because I was with the State agency supporting their latent examinations in most cases, I was given the opportunity to view the print while they prepared the arrest warrant. I had to inform the agency that they had better not move on their arrest and search warrants on the ident, because it was wrong. Except in the extreme cases of possible immediate danger to persons, discretion by patience is recommended. There are no provisions for “follow-up” on an identification report. It must be valid at the time before ANY action is taken concerning the individual. An individual using local PC Base AFIS systems must be aware of this requirement and make the necessary arrangements that Ed has outlined in regard to verification. I visited one organization that used Internet and its image transmission qualities to make verifications between examiners over a very long distance because one location had a lone examiner. The avenue is there and should be used.
Local PC Based AFIS systems can be a very valuable tool to law enforcement, but like all tools, the proper utilization should be understood for the best solution to a problem. It is the responsibility of trained and certified latent examiners in the area of jurisdiction to properly advise the departments using local systems. It is also the responsibility of organizations marketing these products to include this advice in their training material.
|Posted on Sunday, June 16, 2002 - 02:03 pm: ||
Beginning in about the 1970's, there was similar alarm voiced by Forensic Scientists about the proliferation of cheap and locally used field drug testing kits. The concerns were identical to those written below, and there were anecdotal incidents of small agency non-experts causing false arrests by exaggerating their training, experience and ability bolstered by the (sometimes improperly used) field testing kits. At the end of the day though, common sense and good law enforcement administration resulted in the new tools being used to help reduce crime.
If you are saying that mini-AFIS's should not be in laypersons' hands because someone will end up in jail erroneously, are you really saying that the advantage of solving more crime with much more AFIS processing at the local level does not outweigh even one person being temporarily jailed erroneously… ever?
If that's the case, then we should also perhaps lobby for guns to be taken from police because there is 100% certainty that innocent citizens WILL continue to occasionally be killed by stray police bullets or police officers erroneously reacting in the heat of the moment at a robbery.
What about the criminals who will be free to continue victimizing society because of the fear that a fingerprint identification error might be made? Can there not be a balance and appropriate controls instituted so local agencies can use mini-AFIS's (like they learned to use field drug testing kits) with appropriate follow-up by bona-fide forensic scientists in a timely manner?
I contend that it is possible to establish such procedures, just as it was with field drug testing kits. I recommend working with agencies toward establishing such policies, not discouraging the use of a new crime fighting tool.
The late Robert D. Olsen, Sr., instituted a program in Kansas decades ago where smaller agencies with only one FP expert could mail FP ID's to a group of Kansas Division IAI certified LP Examiners for rapid verification... with much faster turn-around than a state crime lab could provide due to casework sequence (first in, first out) policy and backlog. Something similar to Olsen’s “pool of experts” might be possible.
Another option would be for smaller agencies to contract with a CLPE consultant on a retainer basis for relatively rapid review of “suspected” AFIS hits. Such verifications could be done primarily by e-mail exchange. The federal government sometimes calls such computerized expert consultation a “reachback” ability, providing expert support to isolated areas which cannot justify full-time expert staffing. 500 ppi digital images are often sufficient for determining there is NOT an identification, and the expert can request original evidence or high-resolution images when needed to effect an identification.
mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2002 - 04:49 pm: ||
Mr. Hamm, those were exactly my concerns and I appreciate your input.
|Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2002 - 03:41 pm: ||
For the record, Mary Ellen Holmberg is a Certified Latent Print Examiner working at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s (an all-police environment) Office, Florida. This agency serves the greater Tampa Florida area. I am sure HSO it is not considering that their agency ‘settles for less’ in the staffing and operation of their latent print section.
Mary Ellen has a genuine concern about the possible use/abuse of local PC AFIS programs. There are many, many small agencies out there (especially in the US) that are interested in ‘closing cases’ and doing so with their own resources and in an expeditious fashion. These agencies are the ones that will use a quick-fix solution in a local ever-increasing crime problem. There can be mistakes made, but they will not be known until a falsely accused individual knows there is an error and seeks outside support (re: Shirley McKie). While current judicial ‘gatekeeping’ should look at court presented evidence and expose lack of competency, many cases never reach that level. Very few cases involving latent print identifications (individualizations for T. Smith) wind up requiring the appearance of a qualified examiner during trial proceedings. Perhaps strange to some, but true. The concern is there, Mary Ellen, and as a professional examiner, you have an obligation to be alert about such actions in your area and how they are being used.
Terry A. Smith
|Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2002 - 02:45 pm: ||
I suspect that I understand the underlying issue here far more than you give me credit for, since I am a civilian fingerprint/forensic examiner working in an all-police environment. I could go on….but…
My point is this, the companies are going to make their wild claims in an effort to attract business. It is nothing new that product marketing pushes the 'reality' envelope. It may be true that this AFIS vendor’s claim has SOME validity. I recall our first AFIS hit was during the training session itself. What a great marketing testimonial that would make!
BUT…when the court date arrives;
Who’s going to explain friction skin development and structure?
Who’s going to explain the physical or chemical interaction between the development medium and print matrix ?
Who’s going to explain those nasty (apparent) dissimilarities caused by things such as pressure distortion?
Hey, who’s gonna explain pressure distortion itself?
Who’s going to explain the rest, the fundamentals, the individualization, the enlargements…..?
There’s only one who can do it, be they wearing a badge or not. He/She is the qualified Latent Print Examiner – “trained to competency” . If your agency settles for less, they are putting themselves and the community at significant risk because there’s a big difference between "closing cases" and getting criminal convictions.
mary ellen holmberg
|Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 - 11:28 am: ||
I appreciate your answer, but I feel your analogies are a little far off. I believe it is more akin to taking me, a civilian, and saying you need a patrol officer and giving me a gun and a car and telling me I can patrol with no training.
My main concern is the following quotation from a brochure by a company: "Examiners and DETECTIVES
with very little computer experience are entering tenprints, palms, and crime scene latents--MAKING HITS AND CLOSING CASES AFTER ONLY TWO DAYS OF TRAINING (included with the system)." The capitals are mine. Nowhere is it mentioned that an identification needs to be done by a QUALIFIED LATENT PRINT EXAMINER or that the person needs to have any training in fingerprints whatsoever.
Thanks for your response but it doesn't really address what I see as the problem.
Terry A. Smith
|Posted on Saturday, June 08, 2002 - 08:33 am: ||
I installed a version of PhotoShop on my PC and in a very short period of time, was able to create an image, save it, print it, and so on. But believe me, I'm no Graphic Artist. The ability to drive a car, similarly, would not prepare me to give expert testimony on automobile engineering principles.
So maybe it's true, that the system(s) you refer to are getting so "user friendly" that anybody who can click a mouse might launch a successful AFIS search. Remember though, AFIS at it's best just gets you to look in the right file cabinet for a set of fingerprints. The scientific analysis, comparison and evaluation…and any court preparation and presentation of a fingerprint case is much more involved and requires a thorough understanding of the science. Police managers had better realize that. One needs only look at the McKie case and its’ potential repercussions to see what can happen when a fingerprint is incorrectly individualized.
Mary Ellen Holmberg
|Posted on Wednesday, June 05, 2002 - 03:08 pm: ||
is there a potential problem arising from companies marketing their pc based afis to people with no fingerprint experience? if their advertising claims that you can utilize the system with only two days of training (albeit, that you have to have a latent examiner to provide the final identification), doesn't that conflict with everything the profession stands for? if you can launch the latent comparison and make the initial identification with no experience, what does that say about the requirements we profess to need for education, training, certification, etc.?