What is Fingerprint Analysis?

Fingerprint analysts, also often referred to as forensic print analysts, latent (meaning hidden or concealed) print examiners, latent fingerprint analysts, fingerprint examiners, or fingerprint experts, are scientists who are responsible for preserving, studying and evaluating fingerprints (and often palmprints and footprints) as part of a crime scene investigation.

Fingerprint analysts, who may work in the field, in the lab, or in a combination of the two, use a number of technologies as to retrieve fingerprint samples and then compare them with fingerprint databases.

Fingerprint analysts may be called upon to:

  • Process various types of fingerprint samples
  • Enhance visible prints using a variety of photographic and computer equipment
  • Identify and label latent prints
  • Verify the identification of latent prints to known impressions
  • Prepare detailed reports on tests and their results
  • Sweep crime scenes as to carefully lift fingerprints
  • Preserve fingerprint specimens for lab analysis
  • Load fingerprint images into state or national fingerprint databases for comparison

Forensic fingerprint analysts may work for law enforcement agencies and other governmental agencies, and their work requires them to collect and preserve evidence at crime scenes and perform tests in the laboratory. They are also often called to testify as expert witnesses in criminal or civil trials.

About the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System

In addition to state databases, fingerprint analysts must have a solid background in the operation of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a national fingerprint system run by the FBI.

The IAFIS, which assists local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and partners, is designed to solve and prevent crime through automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent search capability, electronic image storage, and the electronic exchange of fingerprints.

In addition to fingerprint services, the IAFIS stores information on criminal histories, mug shots, and physical characteristics, all of which are submitted on a voluntary basis by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.

To date the IAFIS includes more than 70 million subjects, as well as more than 73,000 known and suspected terrorists. During FY2010, the IAFIS processed more than 61 million submissions.

Educational Avenues for Fingerprint Analysts

The most common path to a career as a fingerprint analyst is through a bachelor’s degree in a forensic science or applied science field. However, this field often demands professionals with graduate degrees. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences recommends that students interested in a career as a forensic analyst seek study in the biological sciences, math, criminal justice, criminalistics, or chemistry.

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Common bachelor programs pursued by individuals interested in a career in fingerprint analysis include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice, Forensics
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Forensics
  • Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences
  • Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science

Forensic science bachelor degrees, which may include specialization in chemistry or biology, often contain the following coursework:

  • Biological Principles
  • Genetics
  • Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
  • Criminal Procedures
  • Principles of Judicial Practice
  • Survey of Forensic Sciences
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Forensic Sciences
  • Forensic Sciences Lab
  • Physics

Many employers also require the completion of specific FBI or DOJ Basic and Advanced Fingerprint courses (many of which help prepare individuals for certification), which may include:

  • Advanced Comparison for Tenprint Examiners
  • Classifying Fingerprints
  • FBI Fingerprint Examiner Training Program
  • Forensic Documentation for the Tenprint Examiner
  • Scientific Basics of Fingerprints: Classifying, Recording, and Comparing
  • Scientific Basics of Fingerprints – Recording
  • Scientific Basics of Palmprints – Recording
  • The Data Behind the Fingerprints

Professional Certification for Fingerprint Analysts

Professional certification is common for fingerprint analysts, as it provides these professionals with continuing education, a must in this field.

The International Association for Identification offers the Latent Print Certification, which requires a minimum of 80 hours of certification-board approved training in latent print matters, along with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and at least two years of full-time experience in the comparison and identification of latent print material (or an associate’s degree and three years of full-time experience).

The International Association for Identification also offers the Tenprint Examiner Certification, which requires candidates to have at least 40 hours of board-approved continuing education training/credits in recording, classifying, comparing and searching of tenprints and at least 16 hours of board-approved training in courtroom testimony. Experience requirements include at least two years of full-time experience in recording, classifying, filing and searching tenprints. Education requirements include, at a minimum, an associate’s degree or at least 60 semester hours of college credit.

Certification for both designations is achieved through an exam given by the IAI Latent Print Certification Board.

Fingerprint Analyst Salaries

Recent job listings for fingerprint analysts reveal current salary ranges:

  • Fingerprint Analyst I, Miami-Dade Police Department: $41,311-$72,485
  • Forensic Latent Print Analyst II, Florida: $31,443-$55,739
  • Fingerprint Analyst, Arizona: $29,491-$41,241
  • Latent Fingerprint Examiner II, California: $50,356-$61,213
  • Forensic Specialist, Latent Prints, California: $43,596-$53,424
  • Latent Fingerprint Specialist, Florida: $44,408-$63,211
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