False positives rare from fingerprint examiners

Apr 26, 2011

In a controlled study, fingerprint examiners who determined that a crime scene-quality print matched a high-quality sample from the same individual were correct 99.8% of the time.

Investigators utilize a range of techniques to collect , or "latents." Latent print examiners try to match these limited-detail prints to high-quality prints, or "exemplars," that law enforcement officers obtain directly from individuals.

JoAnn Buscaglia and colleagues presented 169 experienced latent print examiners with approximately 100 latent-exemplar pairs that had been selected to include a range of commonly encountered scenarios, and asked the experts to determine whether the fingerprints were from the same individual.

The examiners made only six false positives, or an error rate of about 0.1%. Most of the examiners, however, incorrectly determined at least once that a matched latent-exemplar pair did not come from the same individual, for an overall false negative rate of about 7.5%.

The authors report that independent examinations conducted by different participants detected every false positive and the majority of false negatives, leading the researchers to conclude that duplicate analyses, as practiced by some forensic laboratories, would likely reduce error rates even further.

Explore further: Best of Last Week—Confirmed Earth-sized planet, testing twin paradox w/o a spaceship and news we all peak at 24

More information: "Accuracy and reliability of forensic latent fingerprint decisions," by Bradford Ulery, R. Austin Hicklin, JoAnn Buscaglia, and Maria Antonia Roberts, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018707108

Abstract
The interpretation of forensic fingerprint evidence relies on the expertise of latent print examiners. The National Research Council of the National Academies and the legal and forensic sciences communities have called for research to measure the accuracy and reliability of latent print examiners’ decisions, a challenging and complex problem in need of systematic analysis. Our research is focused on the development of empirical approaches to studying this problem. Here, we report on the first large-scale study of the accuracy and reliability of latent print examiners’ decisions, in which 169 latent print examiners each compared approximately 100 pairs of latent and exemplar fingerprints from a pool of 744 pairs. The fingerprints were selected to include a range of attributes and quality encountered in forensic casework, and to be comparable to searches of an automated fingerprint identification system containing more than 58 million subjects. This study evaluated examiners on key decision points in the fingerprint examination process; procedures used operationally include additional safeguards designed to minimize errors. Five examiners made false positive errors for an overall false positive rate of 0.1%. Eighty-five percent of examiners made at least one false negative error for an overall false negative rate of 7.5%. Independent examination of the same comparisons by different participants (analogous to blind verification) was found to detect all false positive errors and the majority of false negative errors in this study. Examiners frequently differed on whether fingerprints were suitable for reaching a conclusion.

Provided by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hidden fingerprints revealed

Mar 15, 2007

Hidden fingerprints can be now be revealed quickly and reliably thanks to two developments in nanotechnology. The news is reported in the latest edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Chemical Communications.

Cracking the children's fingerprint disappearing act

Feb 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Children's fingerprints disappear faster than those of adults -- a little-known fact that can hamper investigations of kidnapping cases. To investigate this phenomenon, a team of researchers ...

Recommended for you

Bloody souvenir not from decapitated French king: DNA

1 hour ago

Two centuries after the French people beheaded King Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, DNA analysis has thrown new doubt on the authenticity of one such rag kept as a morbid souvenir.

Residents of 'boom time' suburbs face unsustainable commutes

2 hours ago

People living in the 'boom time' suburbs of Dublin are more likely to endure unsustainable commutes to work than those living in older accommodation. Research shows that people living in newly constructed housing in the Greater ...

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

18 hours ago

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...