New Software Improves Rigor of Latent Fingerprint Examination

There is currently no standard method of detailed documentation of the latent print examination process, but NIJ-supported researchers have developed software that improves the standardization and quantifiability of the process, implemented as part of the FBI’s Universal Latent Workstation, the existing latent print system.

January 22, 2018

One of the central issues in the field of latent fingerprint examinations is that the current methods used by law enforcement agencies vary widely and, in part because of the lack of uniform training, lack standardization and quantifiability. In response, the researchers on this NIJ-supported project, from the scientific company Noblis, developed ACEware, software intended to provide a platform for “standards-based detailed annotation of the latent print examination process for use in training new latent print examiners in standard, reproducible documentation . . . as well as for use by experienced case-working latent print examiners in documenting actual case work.”

The researchers, William Chapman and R. Austin Hicklin, said their ACEware application builds upon the pre-existing Universal Latent Workstation (ULW) application from the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division. ULW provides latent print examiners with tools to mark up latent print images, do comparisons of latent prints, and conduct latent print searchers on the Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS).  ACEware builds on the ULW system, the researchers said, and adds new capabilities, including:

  • Dataset-based training by either an instructor, or “self-led” by the student.
  • Creation and management of datasets that can set relationships between all files contained within a dataset, which allows establishment of a “standard specification for friction ridge datasets.”
  • Comparison or consolidation of the markups of a single latent print by multiple examiners.
  • The ability to perform blind or non-blind verifications from within the ULW software.

The project involved collaborations with the Fairfax County Police Department (Virginia), the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory.   Several other agencies, including the FBI Laboratory, participated in testing the software.

“The reactions to the ACEware functionality have been positive,” the researchers said, with several users saying the software, “would either improve current processes or introduce new processes that would be beneficial for past, current, and future work.” They noted that ACEware, “will help increase the rigor applied to the examination process in an effort to decrease the risk of false or missed identifications.”

“Over the past ten to fifteen years . . . the latent print examination discipline has been undergoing a sea-change, reevaluating its basic tenets with the goal of improving the scientific basis for latent print examination,” the researchers said. ACEware was developed to be part of that process, they said, by putting “software tools in the hands of examiners in order to improve the rigor of the latent print examination process.”

The ULW Software with ACEware has not been approved for release by the FBI.

About This Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ award 2013-R2-CX-K011, awarded to Noblis.

This article is based on the grantee report “ACEware Latent Fingerprint Identification Research and Software Development" (pdf, 56 pages), by William J. Chapman, R. Austin Hicklin, Noblis.

Cite This Article

National Institute of Justice, “New Software Improves Rigor of Latent Fingerprint Examination,” January 22, 2018,

Date Created: January 22, 2018