News from the Field

SWGFAST Website Updates

The Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis (SWGFAST) recently added a Community Resource Page that will allow SWGFAST members to provide credible responses to questions about friction-ridge examination and share reference materials with the community. In addition, several new important documents were recently added to the site, including: “Standard for the Documentation of ACE-V,” “Recommendations for Research,” and “Standards for Minimum Qualifications and Training to Competency for Friction Ridge Examiner Trainees.” To view the continually evolving site, go to: www.swgfast.org

Innovative tattoo-matching technology
offers a new way to search for and identify criminals

A unique tattoo-matching technology is on its way to being made available to corrections and law-enforcement officials. Developed at Michigan State University (MSU) by a team led by Anil K. Jain, a university distinguished professor of computer science and engineering, the technology uses features such as tattoo color, shape, and texture to compute the similarity between images. In January, MorphoTrak, a provider of biometric and identity-management solutions, acquired the technology with plans to make it widely available to law enforcement.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, more than 36 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 40 have at least one tattoo. This proportion is much higher among criminals and members of criminal gangs. Consequently, federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies have been collecting images of tattoos for many years.

A typical tattoo search today involves matching a text description of the tattoo, making the process slow and inaccurate. With the image-based technology developed by Jain’s team at MSU, agencies will now have the ability to more fully exploit their large repositories of tattoo images for the identification of suspects and victims.

“With the increased awareness of the value of matching tattoos for suspect and victim identification, and associating tattoos to particular gang affiliation, automatic image retrieval and indexing capabilities may be integrated into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system later in this decade to serve as another valuable tool for the criminal-justice community,” said Peter Higgins of Higgins and Associates, International. He is also the former deputy assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System program.

National database for missing persons
experiences a strong year of growth in 2009

In January 2009, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) was launched on the Internet. Through this system, users have access to search and cross-search two databases: one for Unidentified Persons and one for Missing Persons. The free online system can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law-enforcement officials, and the general public to help solve missing- and unidentified-persons cases.

NamUs launched in the face of some startling statistics: It has been estimated that in the United States, there are approximately 40,000 unidentified human remains in the offices of medical examiners or coroners—or they have been buried or cremated before being identified.

Since its launch at the beginning of 2009, NamUs experienced some immediate and impressive growth in terms of cases added to the system and the number of users registered. Here are some of the numbers that illustrate that growth:

  • In 2009, more than 2,700 new cases were added to NamUs, taking the total number of cases to just over 9,000. “On the missing person’s side, the number of cases doubled in just one year,” said Billy Young, NamUs coordinator. “This is critical to the success of NamUs because the more cases that are in the system, the more cases can be solved.”
  • Since January 2009, NamUs has assisted in the resolution of 15 missing- or unidentified-persons cases.

From the NamUs Case Files

In July 2007, Luis Fernandez went missing in Omaha, Nebraska. His family reported him missing in June 2008. Fernandez’s case was entered into NamUs in March 2009 after Officer Jim Shields of the Omaha Police Department learned about NamUs at a conference at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. On April 6, 2009, a civilian from Iowa contacted Shields and alerted him of a possible match between Luis Fernandez’ case number in the NamUs Missing Persons Database and an unidentified person in the NamUs Unidentified Persons Database. The medical examiner in Ringgold County, Iowa was pulled into the case and began comparing dental records, which were ultimately inconclusive. On January 11, 2010, the unidentified person in Iowa was positively identified as Luis Fernandez through family-reference DNA samples from members of Fernandez’ family.

This case shows that the power of NamUs lies in the law-enforcement personnel, medical examiners, coroners, and citizens who contribute data to the two databases. www.NamUs.gov


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED:
"News from the Field"
March-April 2010 (Volume 8, Number 2)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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