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Rather than 'Hands up!' It's 'Shoes and socks off!'

Everyone knows that the United States Marine Corps is always looking for a few good men. This summer, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are looking for thousands and thousands of good men - and women. And they want to get them to take their shoes and socks off.

At issue is the development of a new forensic identification technique involving bare footprints. The Mounties are asking Canadians to contribute their prints so that Sgt. Robert Kennedy, a world leader in footwear impressions research, can develop a suitably large enough collection of prints to classify and have available for research purposes.

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The Mounties collect samples by having their unshod subjects step onto an inkless pad and then onto specially treated paper. The Mounties, who hope to collect 10,000 to 20,000 samples throughout the Ottawa area this summer, have set up shop to get their prints in public places like Parliament Hill, where tourists gather to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard. They have also gone to shopping malls and a water park.

Sergeant Kennedy's work involves a concept called "barefoot morphology." The idea is that each individual human being has a unique pattern to the weight-bearing areas of his foot. To put it in simplest terms, the ball of this one's foot will be bigger, and that one's heel will be larger, for instance. So far, research has shown that no two individuals, not even identical twins, who share the same DNA, have the same barefoot morphology.

This identification technique would typically be used to link a criminal suspect to a shoe that has been linked to a crime scene. Forensic scientists who have an adequate shoe print in mud, for instance, can match a shoe definitively to the print. Sergeant Kennedy's technique takes the next step, so to speak, by connecting a suspect to the shoe by demonstrating that the suspect's barefoot morphology matches the pattern worn into the sole of the shoe.

Because it uses weight morphology rather than patterns of whorls and ridges on skin, this footprint technique is different from fingerprint identification. But in terms of having the technique accepted in court, some of the same considerations are relevant, Mounties spokesman Sgt. Andr Guerin explains: In both instances, researchers need to be able to tell courts that analysis was made in connection with a large database of classified examples. "The more, the merrier," Sergeant Guerin says.

The first high-profile case involving Kennedy's footprint research was that of Allan Legere, whom Kennedy helped convict of the murder of a Roman Catholic priest in Miramichi, New Brunswick, in 1989. Guerin says that public response to the footprint roundup has "been tremendous." Commenting on Canadians' traditional willingness to cooperate with their national police whenever asked, he says, "The vast majority are law-abiding citizens. We couldn't operate without them."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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