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FINGERPRINTS. Chapter 3. History. The first systematic attempt at personal identification was devised by a French police expert, Alphonse Bertillion .

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Chapter 3

  • The first systematic attempt at personal identification was devised by a French police expert, Alphonse Bertillion.
  • The Bertillion system relied on a detailed description of the subject, combined with full length and profile photographs and a system of precise body measurements called anthropometry.
  • In 1892 Francis Galton published his classic textbook Finger Prints.
  • At Galton’s insistence, the British government adopted fingerprinting as a supplement to the Bertillion system.
  • The next step was the creation of classification systems capable of filing many thousands of prints in a logical and searchable sequence.
  • In 1903, when the Bertillion system could not distinguish between two men (one Will West and the other William West), it was fingerprinting that clearly distinguished them.
  • After the Will West incident, the use of fingerprinting by the New York City Civil Service Commission in 1901, and the training of American police by Scotland Yard representatives at the 1904 World’s Fair, fingerprinting began to be used in earnest in all major U.S. cities.
Volar Pads
  • Pads begin to appear on the fingers around 7.5 weeks.
  • Studies show there is a direct correlation between the location, shape and size of volar pads and fingerprint patterns.
  • The shape of the volar pad can be the result of genetics or external physical influences or a combination of both.
  • Similarities in overall pattern design can be seen quite often in siblings - especially identical twins. This is apparently the result of similar genetic encoding responsible for volar pad development.
  • Fingerprint patterns are not just the result of genetic factors but also random physical stresses and tensions.
  • The exact arrangements of the ridges, minutiae and other identifying features are random and not genetically linked (and thus not inheritable).
biology of prints
Biology of Prints
  • The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin, while the dermis is the inner layer of the skin.
  • The dermal papillae is the layer of cells between the epidermis and dermis, that is responsible for determining the form and pattern of the ridges on the surface of the skin.
  • Once the dermal papillae develop in the human fetus, the ridge patterns will remain unchanged throughout life except to enlarge during growth.
  • Each skin ridge is populated with pores leading to sweat glands from which perspiration is deposited on the skin.
  • Once the finger touches a surface, perspiration, along with oils that may have been picked up by touching the hairy portions of the body, is transferred onto that surface, leaving the finger’s ridge pattern (a fingerprint).
fingerprint principles
Fingerprint Principles
  • Fingerprints are a reproduction of friction skin ridges found on the palm side of the fingers and thumbs.
  • The basic principles underlying the use of fingerprints in criminal investigations are that:

1. a fingerprint is an individual characteristic because no two fingers have yet been found to possess identical ridge characteristics

2. a fingerprint will remain unchanged during an individual’s lifetime

3. fingerprints have general ridge patterns that permit them to be systematically classified

fingerprint principles9
Fingerprint Principles
  • Mathematically, the probability for the existence of two identical fingerprint patterns in the world’s population is extremely small.
  • Besides theoretical calculations, of the millions upon millions of individuals who have had their prints classified, no two fingerprints have been found to be identical.
  • The individuality of a fingerprint is not determined by its general shape or pattern, but by the careful study of its ridge characteristics, known as minutiae.
  • It is the identity, number, and relative location of these minutiae that imparts individuality to a fingerprint.
fingerprint principles10
Fingerprint Principles
  • There are as many as 150 minutiae on the average finger.
  • After a three year study, it was determined that “no valid basis exists for requiring a predetermined minimum number of friction ridge characters which must be present in two impressions in order to establish positive identification.”
  • In a judicial proceeding, an expert must demonstrate a point-by-point comparison in order to prove the identity of an individual.
types of fingerprints
Types of Fingerprints
  • Arch
    • About 5% world’s population
  • Loop
    • 60-65 % world’s population
  • Whirl
    • 30-35% world’s population
Only 3 fingerprint patterns.

You may have only one pattern, combination of two or all three present on your fingers.

In each fingerprint you have ridges that form specific shapes.

Fingerprint Patterns




loop 60 65
Loop (60-65%)
  • A loop must have one or more ridges entering and exiting from the same side. Loops must have one delta.
  • Types
    • Radial—opens toward the thumb
    • Ulnar—opens toward the “pinky” (little finger)
  • Which type of loop is this, if it is on the right hand? Left hand?
whorl 30 35
Whorl (30-35%)
  • A plain or central pocket whorl has at least one ridge that makes a complete circuit. A double loop is made of two loops. An accidental is a pattern not covered by other categories. Whorls have at least two deltas and a core.
  • Types
    • Plain
    • Central Pocket
    • Double Loop
    • Accidental
arch 5
Arch (5%)

An arch has friction ridges that enter on one side of the finger and cross to the other side while rising upward in the middle. They do NOT have type lines, deltas, or cores.


  • Plain
  • Tented
ridge characteristics
Ridge Characteristics

Minutiae—characteristics of ridge patterns

  • Ridge ending
  • Short ridge
  • Dot or fragment
  • Bifurcation
  • Double bifurcation
  • Trifurcation
  • Bridge
  • Island
  • Enclosure
  • Spur
The 3 Levels of Detail

Level 1: Pattern Type

Level 2: Ridge path/detail

Level 3: Ridge Shapes and pore location