All individuals’ fingerprints are unique and do not change over the course of our lives. As a result, they play a significant role in solving crimes, as investigators are able to identify suspects based on the fingerprints that they leave behind at crime scenes. Latent print technicians, also known as latent print examiners, are responsible for documenting prints at crime scenes and comparing them to suspects’ prints. Like all forensic technicians, the work that latent print technicians do aids law enforcement in solving crimes and helps prosecutors convict offenders during court proceedings. All latent print technicians receive specialized training, which usually occurs on the job.
Latent print technicians study fingerprints, footprints and other related items at crime scenes in the hope of identifying a suspect. They are called to the scene of a crime and dust surfaces with powdered pigments to reveal prints that have been left behind. Latent print technicians may also remove items from a crime scene and use chemicals that vaporize in the lab to uncover prints. Once they have a sample to work with, latent print technicians compare the ridge details of the prints to those of offenders that are already on file or to a suspect that the police have already identified. Latent print technicians also use recognition software, digital scanning and database searches to search through thousands of records in an efficient manner. They may also be called to testify at trials as expert witnesses as well.
Most latent print technicians have at least a bachelor’s degree. Students typically major in forensic science, chemistry or a related field. Some latent print technicians are law enforcement officers and may have a degree in criminal justice or criminology. In addition to science and criminology courses, those interested in a career as a latent print technician may also find classes in legal procedures helpful. Most latent print technicians receive on the job training, which usually involves working with an experienced print examiner and observing the proper procedures and techniques for lifting and copying prints. Latent print technicians may also become certified by the International Association for Identification (IAI), which offers the Latent Print Certification. Candidates must a complete a minimum of 80 hours of approved training in latent print work; an acceptable combination of work experience and education and a passing grade on the IAI certification exam.
Latent print technicians usually work standard 40 hour weeks. Because crimes may occur at any time, however, they may be required to work nights, weekends and holidays. Some may also work on-call shifts which require them to respond to a crime scene whenever they are called. Latent print technicians must copy prints at the scene of a wide variety of investigations, which can often be upsetting or disturbing based on the nature of the crime.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wages for forensic science technicians, including latent print technicians, was $51,480 as of May 2009. The highest 10 percent were paid more than $84,260, while the lowest 10 percent were paid less than $32,420. The middle 50 percent were paid between $40,340 and $66,240.
The BLS estimates that employment for forensic science technicians, including latent print technicians, will increase by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster rate than the average for all occupations. Employment should grow rapidly at state and local government agencies as latent print technology improves and makes investigating and solving crimes more efficient. In addition, many openings will result from experienced latent print technicians retiring or leaving the field. Candidates who have advanced training should enjoy the best prospects.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Spring 2009, Careers in forensics
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Wages, May 2009, Forensic Science Technicians
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Science Technicians
- International Association for Identification: Latent Print Certification
- Discovery Channel: Criminalists, Latent Print Examiner
- Photo Credit fingerprint image by dip from Fotolia.com
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