Latent Palm Searches: Nationwide
Written by Kristi Mayo   


A national palm print repository officially went online in early May when the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division deployed Increment 3 of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system. With this comes the ability to search crime scene latent prints against NGI’s repository of palm prints from criminal arrest records.

The NGI system was designed to incrementally replace the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) that first went online in July 1999. The new system is being rolled out in seven increments, each bringing a new level of functionality to storing and searching biometric criminal records. With Increment 3, the system is now more than 70 percent deployed.

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Increased Accuracy

In Increment 3, a new algorithm takes advantage of advancements in technology to provide more accurate latent print searches. According to Brian Edgell, unit chief at the NGI Program Office’s Implementation and Transition Unit, Increment 3 makes NGI’s latent print searching three times more accurate than it was on the IAFIS system.

“That increases productivity,” said Edgell. “It increases the workflow. And it provides a better candidate list for the investigator to look at.”

National Palm Print System

About 20 to 30 percent of the latent prints left at a crime scene come from the palm or writer’s edge of the hand—that is, the side of the hand from the little finger to the wrist. Currently, about half of the states in the United States collect palm prints at the time of arrest.

“There’s a good reason behind that,” explained Edgell, “because those are the kinds of prints people are leaving behind when they push off… or when they grab a doorknob or pick up a chair.”

To take advantage of that kind of crime scene evidence, about five years ago the FBI CJIS Division began allowing state agencies to submit palm prints with their arrest records. Ahead of Increment 3, those images were simply stored outside of the repository. After the improvements to NGI went live, those palm prints were added to the national repository and are now available for searches.

To date, approximately 6 million palm prints have been collected for the NGI system. Edgell estimated that 27 or 28 million more are in state systems that have yet to be submitted to the national level.

“We will pull in as many of those as the states are able to give us, and then add them to the existing criminal fingerprint records that we already have,” said Edgell. “The process is ongoing and we are working with the states to do that. It’s a matter of when they have the resources available to go back, pull those records, and prepare them for searching.”

With the new system, latent palm prints are handled in the same manner as latent fingerprints. When a search is initiated in NGI, the system returns a list of candidates. In the event that no match is found, the latent palm print can be added to the Unsolved Latent File (ULF). The user can identify the specific portions of the palm where the latent came from, or the impression can be stored as a wild card—meaning the palm position is unknown.

Experts predict significant results from the new capability. “We are very confident that we will quickly see cold cases solved that had really gone cold because there was no more information available,” said Edgell. “By adding the palm prints and searching latents against that new set of data, we will likely see candidates show up that weren’t there in the legacy system.”

Event Based Repository

When an individual had multiple arrests submitted to the national repository, IAFIS would create a composite image based on the best and most representative prints. Therefore, when a search was initiated in IAFIS, that latent might not have been compared to the most recent arrest record. Or, if the latent was 20 years old, it might have been searched against a tenprint that was only one year old—and aging or scarring may have changed the appearance of the print.

All of that changes with Increment 3. Now, the fingerprints associated with multiple events are stored in the repository, increasing latent search accuracy. It also gives investigators the option to pull from different events in order to support difficult casework.

Partnerships at Borders

“When IAFIS was built in the 1990s, no one knew what an IED was,” said Edgell. Today, the acronym for improvised explosive device is a household term.

“Through our partnerships with the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, the FBI is able to bring in evidence that is collected off of these IEDs—latents left behind by the bomb-makers—and save them in the ULF.”

The prints of an individual attempting a border crossing can be searched not only against the national repository of prints, but also against the ULF. “Now we can stop and arrest those individuals at our borders if they’re trying to cross and come in under some other legal, authorized purpose,” said Edgell. “Without that evidence connecting them back to the scene of a bombing, we would never know that person was actually a bomb-maker five years ago.”

Next Steps

Increment 4, scheduled to deploy in the summer of 2014, will bring even more capabilities, including facial recognition and text-based searches for images of scars, marks, and tattoos.

For more Information

To learn how to submit palm print images not yet shared with CJIS, contact NGI State Representatives at:
304-625-3437 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Review the FBI document “Guidelines for Capturing Palm Prints and Supplementals” here.

About the Author

Kristi Mayo is the editor of Evidence Technology Magazine.

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