Fingerprint Technician: Job Description, Duties and Requirements
A fingerprint technician is a type of forensic laboratory analyst who processes and examines fingerprint evidence in criminal investigations. A position as a fingerprint technician often requires a 4-year degree, job training, experience and professional certification.
Job Description of a Fingerprint Technician
As a forensic scientist, a fingerprint technician works in a crime laboratory or within a local, state or federal law enforcement agency. A fingerprint technician works to reconstruct the circumstances and events surrounding a crime scene, with the ultimate goal of uncovering the truth, based on evidence. This involves collecting, examining, analyzing and comparing partial or latent fingerprint evidence to identify suspects and victims in criminal cases. Fingerprint technicians must also communicate their findings with supervisors, investigators, court officials and law enforcement personnel, either in person or in writing.
At a crime scene, in the morgue or in the laboratory, a fingerprint technician uses various techniques to collect fingerprint evidence. Fingerprint technicians also receive fingerprint cards and records for comparison and examination. Using photographic and computer equipment, fingerprints are collected, enhanced, enlarged, compared and verified by studying ridge details and unique characteristics. Computer databases, such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), allow fingerprint technicians to enter, scan and search through records to identify individuals based on fingerprints.
Fingerprint technicians also follow carefully established evidence handing protocols to maintain chain of custody, prevent contamination and ensure the integrity of case files. They document their findings in written reports and prepare verbal explanations for presentation to law enforcement agencies and for courtroom testimony, which may require the creation of display materials or other explanatory aids. Depending on level of experience and expertise, fingerprint technicians may also supervise and train other laboratory personnel in fingerprint collection and identification techniques. They may also be required to serve as expert witnesses in a courtroom.
As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a job as a forensic science technician requires a bachelor's degree in a natural science or forensic science and significant job training to acquire a position in a crime laboratory (www.bls.gov). Bachelor's degree programs in forensic science combine multi-disciplinary science coursework in chemistry, biology, physics and statistics with forensic science and criminal justice, which the BLS recommends as appropriate preparation for careers in this field. Extensive laboratory work and internships with local crime laboratories or other agencies serve a vital role in providing students with hands-on technical expertise.
Experience and Certification
As of October 2011, most job postings for fingerprint technicians required a bachelor's degree, several years of full-time job experience as a fingerprint technician and professional certification through the International Association for Identification (IAI), which offers 5-year certification in latent print and tenprint categories (www.theiai.org). The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) and the IAI both explained that professional certification is helpful in establishing a fingerprint technician's credibility, especially when he or she provides expert witness testimony (www.aafs.org).
IAI Tenprint Examiner Certification requires the completion of training or continuing education credits relevant to tenprint material and delivering courtroom testimony as an expert witness; additionally, candidates must have an associate's degree and two years of experience, or the equivalent. The test consists of print comparisons, written and technical examinations, a case review and an oral board review.
To become a Certified Latent Print Examiner (CLPE), individuals must have logged at least 80 hours of training and have obtained the appropriate combination of education and job experience, the IAI explained. The examination process includes comparison of latent prints, examination of patterns in inked impressions, a multiple-choice test and a review process with an oral or presentation component.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Forensic science technicians earned an annual median salary of $52,840, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012. The BLS predicted 19% job growth for these technicians, from 2010-2020, with job openings relying on governmental budgets.
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