Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are crime lab examiners all thumbs?

The Houston Police Department is now reviewing all major cases from the past six years (murders, rapes, robberies, etc.) as the result of an external audit of the HPD Crime Lab. According to the audit, outside consultants determined that 53% of the time when crime lab fingerprint examiners said that recovered prints were insufficient for analysis, they were wrong. The consultants also found that in 9% of the cases in which crime lab fingerprint examiners said there were no prints, there were.

I would like to know the criteria by which the outside consultants and crime lab fingerprint examiners determined whether a print was sufficient for analysis. I would like to know how many points of comparison the auditors rely upon versus the crime lab examiners. Even better - on what scientific principal do either the auditors or the examiners rely on when claiming that fingerprints are "unique" or that what they do is even science.

If the issue here is that crime lab examiners were too "conservative" in determining whether or not there was enough of a fingerprint to examine, I don't have a problem with that. I fear that this audit may serve only to put pressure on examiners to "find" matches when analyzing fingerprint evidence.

See also: "Houston fingerprint lab problems prompt case reviews" (Houston Chronicle, 12/1/09)

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