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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2003

    NCIC, flawed dental records hits?

    I found this article while looking for something else, and it is worth a look. It shows that the NCIC system of matching dental records of missing persons and deceased persons is flawed. If I had a missing loved one who was eliminated through dentals, I would be very concerned. It's a long article, but worth the read. I pulled the most relivent part, but please see the link for the full article.

    "Complicated system

    Twenty years ago, when NCIC's dental program was established, the computer was programmed to sift through all information available. Everything from hair and eye color, stature, age, gender, scars, marks, tattoos, dental characteristics and other features were mixed into one search, with the computer told to pay more attention to physical descriptions than to dental information.

    "Scars, marks and tattoos, we know they do generate positive hits," Bell said.

    The problem is, a person's physical characteristics can change drastically from the time they go missing to the time a body is found.

    The computer reports a match only if the points of similarity add up to a threshold score, but because of the weight placed on other factors, a perfect dental match alone won't meet the minimum score.

    The results often mean that a computer search yields long lists of potential, but incorrect, matches -- say 50 blue-eyed, blonde-haired women about 25 years old. Often, the dental records for candidates clearly do not match the teeth of the victim. Local police typically must check each potential match by making time-consuming and usually futile phone calls and other inquiries.

    Simply assigning more points to dental comparisons might not fix the problem. Nationwide, dentists chart and submit dental records to the national computer. Such entries are consistently riddled with mistakes.

    That's because even experienced dentists without forensics training come up with far different interpretations under NCIC guidelines when charting the same teeth because the form is complicated and subjective.

    Years after learning about the system's flaws, the FBI in 1996 appointed Bell and other experts to a task force to examine improvements.

    Three years later, NCIC's policy advisory board approved the panel's recommendations to upgrade the system by creating two separate searches -- one of physical descriptors and another involving a more simplified dental record comparison.

    But because missing and unidentified persons represent only a fraction of the data in NCIC, criminal information deemed more pressing -- everything from alerts about wanted criminals to the license numbers of stolen cars -- took precedence in a 2000 upgrade. The FBI now says it plans to add a stand-alone dental search program in December, although all states must update their own systems by then to use it.

    "The advisory board had to make priorities," Davis said.

    According to a P-I survey, 47 states depend entirely on the NCIC system when using dental records in trying to make "cold hit matches" by computer to identify bodies. Many state identification officials said they were unaware that the computer they trust simply doesn't work.

    In the meantime, no one knows how many of the roughly 5,000 unidentified bodies and 100,000 missing persons the NCIC has on file are good matches the computer cannot spot -- just as it did not after a skull was found beneath a log in the Kettle River's floodplain, just before dark one early October day in 1991."


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Mount Airy, North Carolina
    Thank You Gardenmom,

    This was very informative and really gives one something to think about.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2004

    Identification Factors...

    A very informative and thought provocative article. There are many factors which can be considered by investigators seeking matches, and by forensic experts who try to confirm or eliminate potential matches of missing persons with unidentified bodies.

    With missing persons, various "filters" are at work through out the entire process. First is the filter of memory. People who report a friend or relative missing are only making guesses as to height, weight, clothing, jewlry, physical appearance, etc. They are usually under extreme stress when this information is being given. They might not remember a scar or bone injury, or they might not know about a recent tattoo. Many people don't know their own left from their right, and such mistakes get included in the description.

    Even the "missing" date can be off by years when someone is reporting a missing person many years after the fact.

    Once written down, it takes a life of its own as it goes through more "filters" of editing, and typographical errors. Bits of information often are left out for one reason or another.

    Unfortunately, I have even seen instances where well meaning websites add information which is based only on speculation, opinion, or interpretation of incorrect information. Once on the internet, that incorrect information gets repeated over and over. Examples can be seen daily in continuously forwarded messages containing all manner of nonsense.

    Other filters might be at work to change or alter the initial information - Time being the biggest one. Persons might gain height or weight. New injuries, scars, tattoos, dental work, dyed hair, etc. change the appearance of the person.

    With a death, much of the identifying information can be erased. Time becomes a major factor in this. When found, height and weight are estimated. Age is estimated and some estimates have been up to 20 years off. Estimated date of death is often off by years in some cases. when the information is recorded, again, some information is left out by editing, or for other reasons, and typographical errors can be made.

    Facial reconstructions and sketches are only approximations. Some are very close, others are way off.

    With time, some remains become lost or are cremated, or buried. Then only the written record is available - or not.

    Advances in DNA matching have been made, but it is necessary to have two good samples to make a positive match - one from the unknown person, and one from the missing person or a close relative.

    Identifications have been made on the basis of matching one tooth with a dental record. But usually that is done as a final step in the process which has used other means to identify the remains.

    When it comes to an investigator trying to make matches, one has to remain aware that each and every "identifying" feature seen in print might be in error. Using too much "input" for a sort/search will tend to automatically rule out many possible matches. Don't be frustrated with this, just back off a bit and try the sort again, by leaving out one or more of your fields.

    For instance, you may know that a missing person has blue eyes, but eye color is one of the first things to disappear in death. A John Doe might be estimated as being six feet tall, but that is probably within two inches of being exact - And the missing persons you are trying to match him to all have listed heights which were only guessed at by someone to begin with.

    For some interesting comparisons, I suggest anyone visit the Doenetwork website and look at the "solved" cases. You will see that there are usually many descrepancies.

    Another thing to remember is that the Doenetwork and other similar websites are relatively new. They only contain a small fraction of all the missing persons and John Does. New cases are added daily so it is an ongoing process.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2005
    This information is very helpful, and I will keep it in mind. Thanks for posting.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Thanks Richard, very informative information. It is very frustrating. I can attest for differences. My weight can fluctuate I can't even admit how many pounds. I constantly die my hair. I have probably shrunk over the years. And kids, they grow so fast. My son is 11 and now 5'4'' and 146 lbs! I wouldn't have guessed that. Not only that, but he was measured with shoes on, which probably added at least one inch. My daughter, we still haven't decided what color her eyes are. They were gray, not they look more green/gray. She had dark blonde hair, now it's growing out dark. My point is, if any of us went missing we would have a hard time with these physical characteristics. However, both my kids have had excellent dental care. I would certainly not question dental comparisons. It's very frustrating to know there is a problem within the system. We should be throwing money at it to make it better, IMO.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    NCIC 2000 has been implemented, and most states are now adopting the FBI's new missing person protocol into their state code.