How to Become a Fingerprint Analyst
A fingerprint analyst is a professional scientist who obtains, studies and analyzes fingerprints as well as palm prints and footprints as part of a crime scene investigation. They may also be called forensic science technicians, forensic print analysts, fingerprint experts, fingerprint examiners, latent fingerprint analysts and latent print examiners. Some of the fingerprint analyst’s duties include:
- Sweep crime scenes carefully to find fingerprints
- Process different types of fingerprint samples
- Label and identify different prints
- Use various computer and photographic equipment to enhance visible prints
- Use chemicals to identify fingerprint evidence
- Compare the identity of latent prints to known impressions
- Preserve print specimens for laboratory analysis
- Prepare detailed reports on the test results
- Submit fingerprint images into state and national fingerprint databases
- Examine physical evidence like hair, skin, wood, fiber or soil residue
- Testify as expert witnesses in civil or criminal trials
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places fingerprint analysts in the category of forensic science technicians, and the BLS reports that these professionals should see an employment growth of 17% during the 2016-2026 decade. This should result in the creation of about 2,600 new forensic science technician jobs by the year 2026. Scientific and technological advances in the field of forensic science will increase the usefulness of forensic information, which will increase the demand for fingerprint analysts and forensic science technicians in general. Also contributing to the demand for these workers is the increasing amount of crime, which will result in more forensic science technicians to get the job done as quickly as possible.
According to a May 2017 wage report by the BLS, forensic science technicians earned an average annual wage of $61,220. Those at the lowest 10% earned $33,880 while those in the top 90% earned $95,600. The average hourly wage was $29.43. Wage potential can vary by training, degree, work experience, location and employer. Below are the five top-paying states for forensic science technicians followed by the five lowest-paying states. The list below demonstrates the big part geographic location can play in wage potential.
Here you can see a geographic difference in wage, but comparative to cost-of-living, these salaries are still strong for their respective areas.
How to Become a Fingerprint Analyst
Although there may be a couple of different paths towards becoming a fingerprint analyst, the most common is by earning a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or an applied science field with a focus on fingerprint analysis. Students should take courses like criminal justice, biological sciences, chemistry, math, biological principles, genetics, criminalistics, physics, math, criminal justice, chemistry forensic science and criminalistics.
Some bachelor’s degree programs often pursued by students interested in careers as fingerprint analysts include:
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice – Forensics
- Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Forensics
Requirements to work as a fingerprint analyst vary by employer. Some employers may require a master’s degree in criminal justice. Some employers may also require their fingerprint analysts complete DOJ or FBI Basic and Advanced fingerprint courses. These courses, which may be beneficial for certification, include the following.
- Classifying Fingerprints
- Advanced Comparison for Tenprint Examiners
- The Data Behind the Fingerprints
- Scientific Basics of Fingerprints – Classifying, Recording and Comparing
- Scientific Basics of Fingerprints – Recording
- FBI Fingerprint Examiner Training Program
In addition to having the education and work experience, fingerprint analysts must also have a strong background in the operation of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The IAFI, an FBI-run national fingerprint system, assists law federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in solving and preventing crime using various methods of fingerprint analysis, including:
- Automated fingerprint search capabilities
- Electronic exchange of fingerprints
- Electronic image storage
- Latent search capability
The IAFIS also stores information on mug shots, physical characteristics and criminal histories as they’re submitted by the federal, state and local law enforcement agents on a voluntary basis. The IAFIS currently has more than 70 million subjects in its database. It also has more than 73,000 known or suspected terrorists. More than 61 million entries were submitted to the IAFIS database in 2010.
Day in the Life of a Fingerprint Analyst
Fingerprint analysts use several technologies to get the fingerprint samples and then compare them to others in the fingerprint databases. Although they spend a lot of their time working in the laboratory, they may also be called to work out in the field to retrieve evidence and fingerprints. They may also spend long hours sitting at a desk, working on a computer or studying fingerprint cards and looking for matches in the lines and swirls.
The fingerprints may be lifted and preserved by crime scene investigators or detectives at a crime scene. They then bring it to the laboratory where the fingerprint analyst compares it with other known samples to try to identify who the sample belongs to. Forensic fingerprint analysts typically work for government agencies, such as law enforcement agencies.
Once they’ve completed their analysis, they submit written reports to the detectives or to the court system if they’re used as evidence in a court case. Duties the fingerprint analyst performs as part of the job include:
- Visiting crime scenes or the morgue to obtain evidence
- Collecting evidence and storing it in containers to preserve it
- Operating and maintaining lab apparatus and equipment
- Reviewing forensic analysts’ reports
- Collecting dust impressions to obtain fingerprints
- Testifying in court cases as expert witnesses
Fingerprint analysts generally work a 40-hour week during daytime hours, but they may be called in after hours or on weekends if their services are required at a crime scene or in the lab. Their work may give them exposure to infectious diseases, contaminants and hazardous conditions. They may be required to wear protective clothing when out in the field.
Licensure, Certifications and Continuing Education
Fingerprint analysts are required to complete continuing education courses to remain knowledgeable of all the latest technologies in this field. The continuing education courses are also necessary to obtain and maintain certification. The International Association for Identification offers these two certifications, which can be obtained by passing a certification exam administered by the International Association for Identification.
Latent Print Certification
This requires a bachelor’s degree, two years of full-time experience in identifying and comparing latent print material and 80 hours of certification-board approved training in latent print matters. If the candidate has an associate’s degree, he or she must have three years of experience.
Tenprint Examiner Certification
This requires at least an associate’s degree or 60 hours of college credits, two years of full-time experience in filing, recording, classifying and searching tenprints as well as 40 hours of board-approved continuing education courses in classifying, recording, comparing and searching of tenprints and 16 hours of board-approved training in court testimony.
Other certifications offered through the International Association for Identification include:
- Bloodstain Pattern
- Crime scene
- Forensic Art
- Forensic Photography & Imaging
- Forensic Video