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Author Topic: fingerprints - two questions  (Read 4701 times)

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stevent

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fingerprints - two questions
« on: December 09, 2006, 10:36:13 AM »

Hi,
I assume that in this computerized age if police find a fingerprint at the scene of a crime and run it through all their databases, if it comes up blank, they can just leave it in the database and if and when the fingerprint match is made, they'll get an email or something, no?

The second question - I also assume that if a fingerprint comes up empty against the databases of criminals, that they can search other databases - for instance, military databases or records for police officers, or for anyone who needs to get fingerprinted for their jobs (for instance, I've heard that some bodyguards/security guards, etc need to put their fingerprints on file).

Of course, I need to learn a lot about how fingerprints work. Is there an archived set of information or a book I can look into?
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Lee Lofland

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2006, 12:08:40 PM »

The request for a fingerprint match is not a never-ending, open-ended thing that remains in the system forever. Normally, a reply only comes back when the original inquiry is made. An officer would need to re-submit a request periodically if he/she hopes to get updated information.

 Here is a pretty good site that may help.

http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/iafis.htm

(Shameless plug)  My book has a pretty extensive chapter on fingerprinting and AFIS, complete with some pretty cool photos. It'll be available in July.
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2006, 12:22:15 PM »

Steven,

Just to piggy-back of Lee's comments (which answered your question pretty completely, so this is a side-issue, not directly related to your question), when a computer match is made, it still has to be confirmed by a human fingerprint expert.

Lee Lofland

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2006, 12:42:27 PM »

And...the computer does not normally return just a single match. Officers receive several possible suspect matches and as Jim said, those matches must be confirmed by a qualified technician. It is not done as you see on TV. A cop cannot simply pick up an item with a fingerprint on it and then look at a suspect's fingerprint card and say, "Yup, it's a match. We done got him, now!"
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Zara

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2006, 12:48:07 PM »

Just to add one question to Steven's.
How do they manage in a hotel room? You must have thousands of fingerprints there, from thousands persons. Is there some kind of timeline. How can you say this fingerprint dates from an hour ago or ten years ago? Does it age? 
Zara
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Lee Lofland

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2006, 01:08:20 PM »

Hopefully, the hotel maid service does a thorough job of wiping away most of the older prints on a daily basis. If not, detectives or crime scene techs will have to lift each of the prints they find and submit them. There's no way to tell the age of print.

I think Jim and all the other cops lurking around here will agree with me when I say that most prints that we discover are not anywhere close to being identifiable. They're either partially formed or smudged and smeared which, in most cases makes them totally useless.

In the old days, some cops just "dusted" for prints to pacify victims of minor crimes so they'd think something really important was being done for them. In those instances the officers had no intention of submitting their findings. It was a PR thing. (Sorry, Jim. I let the cat out of the bag...)
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Elena

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2006, 02:52:30 PM »

From my limited experience it appears to me that, except in the case of very high profile cases, there is not a lot of interagency cooperation.  Some of this is, like in many other areas, many more demands than can be reasonably supported by staff.  The rest is hubris.

I was fascinated when I got to spend a day with a crime scene tech - lifting fingerprints is quite literal to my surprise.  Also, the speed with which she worked was quite impressive - from experience she had a mental list she followed that was most likely to result in useful prints.  Quite an educational day.

Elena
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Lee Lofland

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2006, 03:27:53 PM »

Experience IS the key to obtaining good prints. Anyone can do the job, but it takes a pretty delicate touch to whirl and swirl the brushes like a pro. It's truly an art when it's done properly. I've seen some cops have at it like they were painting a house and then wonder why they never have any success.
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stevent

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2006, 03:40:36 PM »

So wait, what about the different databases? Are there different databases that a LEO could go through, or is it just the prints collected from people who get booked?
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2006, 03:47:59 PM »

Lee,

Re your comment below:

Experience IS the key to obtaining good prints. Anyone can do the job, but it takes a pretty delicate touch to whirl and swirl the brushes like a pro. It's truly an art when it's done properly. I've seen some cops have at it like they were painting a house and then wonder why they never have any success.

I worked for an outfit once where they issued everyone a miniuature crime scene kit and had each of the beat cops process their own crime scenes, this after a 15-minute lecture on how to dust for prints.

What a joke!  I don't know of a case where one single usable print was lifted during this whole time the agency was insisting we all participate in this useless charade of smoke and mirrors.

It was all just for public consumption.  If there was ever a really serious crime, we all stood back and called some experienced techs from another agency in to process the scene for us.

JIM DOHERTY

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #10 on: December 09, 2006, 04:04:30 PM »

Steven,

Re your question below:

So wait, what about the different databases? Are there different databases that a LEO could go through, or is it just the prints collected from people who get booked?

Every person who gets booked for anything can have several different sets of prints taken. 

To illustrate, when I worked for Berkeley, we took one full rolled set plus one set of palms for our own department, two full sets plus two sets of palms for the Sheriff's Office which ran the County's Central ID Bureau, one set of the Calfornia Bureau of Identifcation at the State Attorney General's office, and one set for the FBI.  If we arrested someone, the more numbers he already had from previous arrests, the fewer full sets we'd take.  If he'd already been arrested in Berkeley, already had an Alameda County PFN number, already had a CII number from the state, and an FBI number from the Feds, we'd just take one flat set of the four fingers of his right hand on the booking sheet, and wouldn't take a full rolled set at all. 

Since, theoretically, everyone who gets arrested anywhere for anything gets a set sent to the FBI, a check through the Feds' records should turn up an ID if he's ever been arrested.  AFIS (the Automated Fingerpint Identification System) also checks miltary records, records of applicants for federal jobs, for law enforcement jobs, applicants for state licenses, etc.  In theory, if a person has ever been fingerprinted for anything, the G should have a record of those prints on file, so a check of federal records should be all you need.

The great thing about AFIS is that you now only need one useable print.  Under the old computer system, in which prints were coded, you needed at least two adjacent prints (forefinger and big finger, or big finger and ring finger, for example), or better yet, three adjacent fingers, to get any matches, and even then you'd generate hundreds of records that had to be personally checked by a technician. 
« Last Edit: December 10, 2006, 01:26:22 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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Lee Lofland

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Re: fingerprints - two questions
« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2006, 05:05:30 PM »

Good one, Jim.

There is sometimes a lot of smoke and mirrors in various police agencies. I recall a chief who "fudged" the stats on the department's UCR (Uniform Crime Report) to make it seem as if the city's serious offense rate had lowered since he'd taken charge. For example, he'd report B&E's as acts of vandalism and rapes were sometimes recorded as simple assaults. It finally caught up to him, but until it did the citizens were living under a false sense of security. The Chamber of Commerce was also advertising the area as a safe place to live when it was anything but. This does happen quite a bit in other areas, too.
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