News from the Field

New expert working group formed
to examine human factors in latent-fingerprint identification

The examination of latent fingerprints has been considered a reliable method of human identification for more than 100 years. But the scientific and legal community has continued to ask the question: Just how reliable is it? One factor that plays into answering this important question is the seemingly unavoidable presence of human error.

In December 2008, a panel of experts convened for the first time to examine current policies, procedures, and practices that are within the field of friction-ridge identification in order to determine the human factors in this field of forensic analysis.

This group, the Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis, was brought together by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) Office of Law Enforcement Standards. The NIJ and NIST plan to form other discipline-specific working groups for other fields of forensic science with the goal of identifying human factors that affect the outcome of forensic analyses and then to develop practices, based on scientific research, that will reduce the likelihood of error.

The Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis is charged with a six-step process:

1) Review current research relevant to latent-print examination;
2) Take a close look at current hiring and resource-allocation practices, operational processes and procedures, systematic policies, and training curricula and modalities;
3) Evaluate the applicability of practices and models used in other fields, including other forensic disciplines, to fingerprint analysis;
4) Review the feasibility of implementing new and emerging techniques, methodologies, technologies, and standards within existing resources;
5) Identify areas for further study;
6) Publish the group’s findings and recommendations.

The NIJ and NIST stated in the project summary: “This work will identify potential sources of uncertainty within latent-print analysis and will lead to the development of guidelines, improved scientifically sound practices, and/or standards aimed at eliminating or minimizing potential sources of uncertainty as well as identifying future research in the area of quantifying uncertainty within pattern recognition disciplines.”

Members of the working group include experts who are members of the International Association for Identification, as well as statisticians, psychologists, researchers, and other scientific experts.

The project end date is scheduled for August 2010.

"News from the Field"
January-February 2009 (Volume 7, Number 1)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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