Conventional Wisdom: International Association for Identification 2021 Conference | Arts & Culture

Ben Oddo is a Nashville resident, writer and former co-host of The Ben & Morey Show. In his recurring feature film Conventional Wisdom, he will explore the many conventions and trade shows that Music City hosts, from the esoteric to the mundane.


I’m sitting in the back of an empty ballroom at Gaylord Opryland, leaning over a chair as Michele Triplett – fingerprint specialist for the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle – inspects my hands. She explains that there are three different types of fingerprints – arc, loop, and whorl – and that my skin is unique. For a brief moment, I feel like I’m receiving a palm reading.

But I am not a model. In a different setting and in a different context, all this talk about stopping, starting and dividing my ridge lines wouldn’t serve to predict my prospects for the future, but rather to put me aside for Well.

“I was working in a prison years ago and taking people’s fingerprints, and I was like, ‘Oh, you have awesome fingerprints, you should. not commit a crime, ”laughs Michele. “Or wear gloves, this is my advice to you.”

It’s boom time for conventions again in Nashville, and that means I’m back cover a beat it’ll be the first to go once this Delta variant swallows us whole. This week is the 2021 conference of the International Identification Association (IAI), which is the oldest and largest forensic association in the world.

Over the course of five days, 1,200 forensic pathologists, federal officers, crime scene technicians and other law enforcement agencies (as well as academics and pathologists) will come together to attend lectures and workshops, share trade secrets and pursue certification in things like latent fingerprints and forensic photography. Tennessee, I have been told, is a suitable location for this year’s conference, as we are home to the famous “Body Farm” in Knoxville, a center of forensic anthropology where bodies at various stages of death. decomposition can be investigated by organizations like the FBI. On the centre’s website, an FAQ on “How long will you be accepting body donations?” responds: “We do not anticipate a time when we will not accept body donations.” Logical, and yet unsettling.

Most of the lectures at the conference are quite esoteric (“Evaluating inconclusive responses in friction peak error rate studies – is ‘inconclusive’ still a mistake?”), So after about seven minutes, I stop pretending to know or care about probability statements and sebaceous problems. brass instruments and begin to observe the participants themselves.

The first thing you notice is the number of women. I don’t know why I expected a band from Tom Selleck, but there is something surprising that Blood Splatter Gathering is predominantly female. When I ask speakers why they think this is the case, responses range from “women tend to be more detail-oriented and meticulous” to “this is a more accessible way to get into the field without having to. to go through the police academy ”. Please don’t put me on trial here.

The second thing we notice is that there is a podcast convention next door, where shows like Morbid and The real crime obsessed occupy big.

“Wow, how did it go?” Asks one of the Podcast Movement attendees, impressed both by my IAI badge and by my ability to slip into other conventions without being noticed. Lots of women, I told him.

“Crime scene investigations are like a puzzle,” says Celestina Rossi, bloodstain analyst and crime scene reconstruction specialist for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in east Texas. “Unless I give you a plastic bag full of bits and pieces, I reach out, grab a whole handful and throw them in the trash.” »Locard’s principle of exchange at work.

Still, says Rossi, there is enough relevant information to piece your puzzle together. “You’re always going to start with the flat pieces and figure out where your four corners are. This is the tape from your crime scene, right? It’s your border around the crime scene. Then you start to organize by content and color, and where things might go.

“So that’s forensic medicine. We start with the connections. We start putting pieces together, like, ‘Oh, my victim has a gunshot, so I have to find a bullet. Oh, there’s a bullet hole in here. We have to cut the rock plate. You know? And so if the entrance is on this side, then the exit is on this side, and then we had a projectile in the wall.

I ask the group what some of the real crime shows and podcasts are wrong about their profession.

“Some people come in and think it’s going to be glamorous, and you’re not going to walk into a hoarding house and stuff like that,” notes one of Celestina’s coworkers. “They don’t have hoarding houses on shows like CSI. ”

“We all have different levels of PTSD,” adds another, “but it’s very rewarding work, especially when you can right a wrong. It’s an incredible feeling.

Telling the victim’s story to a jury seems to be a big part of what motivates people who attend the IAI conference. But the pressure not to make mistakes and not have days off is also evident. For my last conference, I am attending a conference on wrongful convictions. As I look around the crowded ballroom, I realize that there might be someone here responsible for putting an innocent person in jail. DNA and fingerprints may be the gold standard, but not everything is automated or computer generated; there are still humans behind many of these decisions.






“Our evidence, what we bring to court, has huge implications for the lives of people,” says the guest speaker.

Heavy is the head that, uh, dusters for the prints.

Not wanting to end on a complete negative note, once the speaker is finished I ask Michele if she can describe a crime scene to me. Just a little something for the road.

Rather than indulging directly in my morbid curiosities, she tells me about other uses of fingerprints, such as identifying unknown deceased persons. For those found in water, there is a phenomenon known as “stripping”, where the skin slips off the hand like a glove. Later, I’ll regret Googling this.

Michele explains that she must have already reached inside the skin of a stripped person and dabbed for the prints. It’s both disgusting and intriguing. Still, I appreciate her for being so open with me – and everyone else – about a job they care deeply about and work for on a daily basis to improve themselves.

The people on the podcast would have loved it.


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