Fingerprint analysts work in law enforcement agencies to identify suspects, perpetrators and victims using their unique fingerprints. Fingerprint analysis involves comparing samples collected from crime scenes or print cards against those in the law enforcement databases to conclusively identify people involved or affected by crime.
This type of analysis is conclusive evidence because no two people share the same fingerprints. However, fingerprint analysis is not possible when a persons fingerprints are not in the system, such that there is nothing to compare the samples to. It is also not possible where an individual has no fingerprints, such as where they are burnt off in a car wreck.
What Does a Fingerprint Analyst Do?
Fingerprint analysts work to identify individuals using their fingerprints. Their specific duties include:
- Collecting visible and plastic prints from crime scenes or using print cards obtained from suspects and deceased persons for subsequent analysis in the laboratory
- If there are no visible prints at a crime scene, the analyst dusts the scene with a variety of chemicals to detect and obtain latent prints
- Analyze the samples, comparing the whorls, loops and arches against the prints in the automated fingerprint identification system to determine whether they match
- Contribute to the existing database by loading the prints loaded from a case on to the database
- Report on their findings to the law enforcement agents handling the case
- Where necessary, testify in court as to their findings
Fingerprint analysts are required to have a Bachelors degree in a relevant course such as forensic science or criminal justice.
An undergraduate degree course trains future analysts on subjects such as:
- Chemistry and biological sciences
- Criminal justice system
- Evidence collection and management
- Professional ethics
- Use of chemicals and reagents to collect and analyze evidence
- Court procedures
- How to operate laboratory machines and equipment
If you work for federal law enforcement agencies, you will also have to undertake their prescribed training courses. Certification by the agency or a professional association such as the International Association for Identification will also enhance your chances of securing employment. Continuous professional education or development courses are necessary to stay updated on the latest technologies, methods and techniques in the profession.
To be eligible to work as fingerprint analyst you will also need:
- US citizenship
- To pass a background security check, drug screening test and maybe even a polygraph test
Fingerprint analysts should also have the following skills to excel at the job:
- Strong problem-solving and analytical skills
- Be meticulous and organized
- Ability to work independently but also possess team-work and interpersonal skills.
- Excellent report-writing capabilities
- Calm and honest demeanour when testifying in court
The annual salary of a fingerprint analyst depends on his qualifications, experience and the specific law enforcement agency he works for. For example, an analyst who has an advanced degree, has some years of experience and works for the Drug Enforcement Agency is likely to earn more than an inexperienced one with basic qualifications working for a state police department. The average per annum salary range is:
Fingerprint analysts split their time between the field where they collect prints and the laboratory where they analyze them. You will mostly work independently but since you are part of a team, you will also be spending a lot of time with your law enforcement colleagues. The work hours can be irregular such as when you are called in to a crime scene after official working hours.
The career prospects of a fingerprint analyst depend on the prevailing crime rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the profession will grow at the rate of 6% between 2012 and 2022. This percentage is less than the national average of 8%. As a result, there will be increased competition. An advanced degree and certifications will work to enhance your competitive edge in the market.
This job is ideal for you if you want to work in law enforcement but do not wish to operate exclusively in the field. It allows you to use your methodical and analytical approach to help put criminals away. It also offers an avenue for you to help those in distress about losing their loved ones by identifying people involved in car accidents, fires or such other catastrophes that make immediate identification difficult.
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