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Checking fingerprints

February 25, 2009

Re "Report urges overhaul of crime lab system," Feb. 19

The Times' article about the National Academy of Sciences' report on forensic science was excellent.

However, one area of the report -- and your coverage -- leaves an incorrect impression: the reference to "fingerprints" that lumps all fingerprint analyses together.

There is a vast difference between attempting to positively match a partial single fingerprint to an individual and matching a complete set of fingerprints against another full set of fingerprints.

There are ample data to show that the probability of a false 10-print identification is lower than one in 6 billion. But attempts to positively identify a person from a fragment of a single fingerprint lack scientific validity.

That distinction needs to be made so there is clarity that full fingerprint-based background checks and arrestee identifications (and resulting criminal histories) are completely reliable.

Joseph Bonino



The writer is a retired commanding officer in the Records and Identification Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

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