Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Interesting Factoid For All You Crime Writers

My sig other, Pamela, recently volunteered for a program where you mentor an economically disadvantaged, college-bound teen on their journey from the 8th grade to (one hopes) college.

(Since 8th through 12th grade coincides with the period where parents are most likely to consider shoving their little darlings in front of a passing bus, this might at first seem like signing up for five years of hell. But the job is made easy by the well-known fact that to teenagers, anybody seems cooler than their parents.)

Although Pamela's the ideal mentor for this sort of thing--grew up in a large, low-income family, and made it all the way through her PhD in geophysics with no financial support from her parents--she had a bit of trouble getting approved as a mentor. In fact, it took the better part of a year.

Why? Because they need to do a background check to make sure you aren't a child molester, murderer, or insurance salesman.

When you have a name like "Pamela Blake," you can't exactly Google it and come up with anything but confusion. (10,800 hits, including Pamela Blake the movie star; Pamela Blake, the MD and director of the Headache Center of the Northwest; Pamela Blake of the Women's Royal Naval Service in WWII; Pamela Blake of the Sweatlodge and Shamanism Circle...well, you get the idea.)

So, the obvious thing to do is run her fingerprints through the FBI database, right?

Yes, except for one little problem. Pamela doesn't have fingerprints.

Here's the promised factoid. According to the policeman in the fingerprint lab, "A lot of people lose their fingerprints as they get older."

Now, she hasn't exactly lost her fingerprints, at least not in the sense that you might lose your car keys. But after a number of tries, on a number of different days, there isn't enough of a distinctive structure to her prints to scan them into a data system for identification. It's as if she's worn them off from overuse. So be forewarned and stop touching everything.

Here's another interesting detail. While she was in the identity laboratory, a policeman entered with a black Labrador police dog. He was there to have a picture taken for his ID badge. But not the policeman's badge. The dog's badge.

Can anyone--even a dog's owner--tell one black Lab from another in a mug shot? (Description: 26 inches in height, 45 pounds, short, glossy coat, snout enlongated but square. Floppy ears. Hair: Black. Eyes: Brown. Teeth: White. If you see anyone answering to these particulars...)

Pamela was eventually approved by doing a background check on her name--which, as far as I can tell, means you send her name to the FBI, and they run it through Google.

Meanwhile, Pamela's off on a crime spree. Hey, the odds are on her side now: She's got no fingerprints.


Tim Stretton said...

Are they visibly absent? Does she look to have very smooth fingers?

I am amazed that such a thing can happen. Now wonder law enforcement agencies don't publicise it...

Frances Garrood said...

You've got me really worried now, David. I don't seem to have much in the way of fingerprints, either, or it may just be that I'm wearing the wrong glasses. It's not that I actually need fingerprints; just that I'd like to finish up with all the bits I started out with.

As to police checks, I don't know anyone who hasn't had to have one (I've had two). You need one just to cross the road over here.

Alis said...

I wore my fingerprints off one summer before i went to college repointing an old building with cement by hand (literally). I should have worn gloves but, instead, I wore away my fingerprints.
Should have gone on a crime spree then but didn't have the nerve!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Well, they do seem to have a little less in the ridges department if you look closely, but it's not so extreme that it seems odd. It looks as though you could get fingerprints off of them...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

I've never had a background check. Over here you can cross the road, state lines, the country, and international boundaries without one.

The truly ironic thing is that Pamela has high-level security clearances because of her job.

But the various agencies don't talk to one another, so the fact that her background has been investigated back to her grade-school years and is reinvestigated periodically by questioning all her friends and neighbors (and me) doesn't enter into decinding whether she can take an 8th grader to a museum. Sheesh.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

So your fingerprints are embedded in the mortar of some old building?

Wow. Sounds like the plot of a book.

Jen said...

I worked for the Feds during the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, and my background check took about six months (during which they kindly let me work anyway, it being an emergency and so on). And I never, but never, got used to coming home at night and having a voice mail that started out, "Hi, this is Fox Mulder from the FBI and I need you to call me back about..." even though it happened dozens of times.

Imagine if I hadn't had fingerprints. I don't think ol' Fox would have liked that at all.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

That's hilarious: post-hoc security. What were they going to do, travel back in time and fire you?

On the one hand, it's good that they recognized it was an emergency and didn't demand the checks be completed first. On the other hand, it's a little like screening airline passengers after the flight lands instead of before it boards.

Dar said...

I have never heard of such a thing either, very intersting though. And I completely support your crime spree you can now get started. haha