If you have excellent problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and an interest in detective work, you might wonder how to become a latent print examiner. As a type of forensic science technician, latent print examiners play a vital role in solving crimes, detecting fingerprints on evidence and running tests to identify those fingerprints.
Collecting and identifying fingerprints helps crime scene analysts understand who was in the vicinity of the crime scene and what they were doing. This information offers clues as to what happened before, during, and after the crime occurred. Fingerprints may be used as evidence in legal proceedings. In crime scenes, fingerprints can include residue from blood, sweat, ink, and other substances that can help identify the person who left the prints. Though fingerprints are among the most common types of prints, latent print examiners also work to identify clues such as palm-prints and footprints.
Though popular television shows and films portray crime scene analysts dusting for fingerprints, they do not convey the complexity of the job. First, latent print examiners must uncover fingerprints using physical and chemical techniques (like dusting with powdered pigments or applying vaporizing chemicals) and electrical techniques (such as the use of different light scanning systems and recognition software). Latent print examiners must preserve prints appropriately so as not to damage them or taint them. Because latent fingerprints are left unintentionally at a crime scene, they are often found as only partial prints and may be smudged and difficult to interpret. Though small, fingerprints are intricate, having more than 100 unique identifiers, are points of difference such as arches and loops in the patterns. Latent print examiners must have the focus and sharp vision to find and interpret such fingerprints.
Latent print examiners may work for private detectives or for government agencies, from federal agencies like the FBI and CIA to local police departments and crime scene units. Education and training requirements vary based on the candidate’s intended workplace. Like other types of forensic science technicians, earning a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, forensic chemistry or natural science can be an excellent start on the path to becoming a latent print examiner. Some aspiring latent print examiners pursue a degree or certification directly through their local police departments or crime scene investigation units. The International Association for Identification offers a well-respected Certified Latent Print Examiner program.
For all forensic science technicians, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment opportunities to increase by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, as compared to the 14 percent job growth expected for all occupations. As of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that forensic science technicians earned a median salary of $51,570 per year, significantly higher than the $33,840 annual median salary for all occupations. If you have a strong interest in crime scenes and the skills to find and interpret fingerprints, knowing how to become a latent print examiner may be the start to an exciting new career.