NIJ Award #: 2009-DN-BX-K228
MONMOUTH – Several faculty members in the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Western Oregon University (WOU) have received a two-year, $685,754 grant from the U.S. National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The project is entitled “Application of Spatial Statistics to Latent Print Identifications: Towards Improved Forensic Science Methodologies” and begins in January 2010.
The purpose of the project is to critically examine the current practice of fingerprint comparisons and apply principles of spatial analysis to develop standardized probability measures. The goals are to evaluate fingerprint characteristics using established techniques in spatial statistics, develop robust probabilistic models to quantitatively validate latent print methodologies, and integrate results with field applications in the State of Oregon.
Co-principal investigators are Dr. Steve Taylor, associate professor of geology (WOU), and Dr. Emma Dutton, quality assurance manager at the Forensic Services Division of the Oregon State Police and an adjunct assistant professor in the Biology Department. Taylor has a background in geographic information systems (GIS) and is currently serving as the chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The project director, managing daily research operations, is Pat Aldrich. Aldrich is finishing his doctoral dissertation in community ecology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and has extensive experience in biostatistics. The fourth team member is research associate Dr. Bryan Dutton, a professor of biology at WOU. Bryan Dutton is a plant systematist and is trained in morphological analysis.
According to Emma Dutton, “the results from this project could have significant impacts on the forensic science latent print discipline. Questions regarding fingerprint uniqueness and the scientific basis of latent print comparison analysis are common during court testimony. Having statistical probability data will add credence to latent print comparisons and their use in court.”
Taylor added that “one of the novel approaches included as part of this research involves the application of GIS technology to the square-centimeter scaling of fingerprint ridge patterns. While methodologies are well-established for the morphometric analysis of landscape-scale topographic contours, the application of similar techniques to ridge patterns represents an exciting opportunity to extend existing spatial algorithms to applied problems in forensic science.”
Emma Dutton concluded that “this project will strengthen statistical certainty levels for the commonly employed latent print comparison methodology currently in practice. If we’re successful, this could have national implications.”
In addition to the core team of project scientists, a portion of grant funds are dedicated to engaging WOU students as research assistants. This type of applied research provides an excellent framework for training young Oregonians in scientific principles with an emphasis in spatial analysis and biometrics.
A synopsis of the grant solicitation reads as follows: “The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice is seeking applications for funding research to improve the understanding of the accuracy, reliability, and measurement validity of forensic science disciplines. Research studies should focus on expanding the scientific basis of forensic methods, development of quantifiable measures of the reliability and accuracy of forensic analyses, and development of an understanding of human factors that may affect forensic analyses. This program furthers the Department’s mission by sponsoring research to provide objective, independent, evidence-based knowledge and tools to meet the challenges of crime and justice, particularly at the State and local levels.”
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Dr. Steve Taylor, Biology Department, WOU
Dr. Emma Dutton, Forensic Services Division, Oregon State Police
Pat Aldrich, Biology Department, WOU
Dr. Bryan Dutton, Biology Department, WOU