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How to Become a Fingerprint Technician: Career & Salary Information
Have you ever wondered what happens after fingerprints are taken from a crime scene? The brushes and black powder are packed away. The fingerprints are lifted on tape, and now what? Well, it gets taken to a lab for a fingerprint technician to analyze these findings.
To become a fingerprint technician, you must complete your high school diploma or GED. You would need to obtain a degree, do intern work, gain experience, and become certified as a fingerprint technician from the International Association for Identification.
The role of a fingerprint technician holds more than meets the eyes. Let us look at this extremely particular career and what requirements you would need to meet to pursue this career.
What Is A Fingerprint Technician?
Just imagine it now – you're called to the crime scene, open your bag full of brushes, take out the one best suited for a window lifting, take out the black powder, and begin dusting away. You work your magic until you begin seeing it, almost invisible, and it certainly would be to the untrained eye, but you as the expert, it is there, clear as day, a fingerprint.
Now that the fingerprint has been lifted, it needs to be analyzed and matched to a database to see if any matches are found. It also needs to be matched to people who generally access the area where the crime has occurred so that they can be eliminated as suspects and the fingerprints that were lifted can be identified as that of a possible suspect.
The role of fingerprint technicians is usually two-fold. First, there are latent print examiners who have the acute skill of identifying often unseen fingerprints in a crime scene and lifting those prints for analysis at a lab. They may seem like magicians, lifting prints where most would have never thought to look, but through skills, experience, critical thinking, and logic, they assess how a crime might have been committed.
The second role is conducting the duties of a fingerprint technician in the lab, conducting an analysis of the prints that have been lifted and comparing them to digital and physical databases.
Although one person may carry out both those roles, the role of a latent print examiner may also be carried out by a crime scene investigator and those who are actively present at the crime scene.
Fingerprint technicians work with the technical aspects of fingerprint analysis. While some may assess for matches by manually assessing any similarities, which is a skill that takes years to perfect, they also work with digital databases that comprise multitudes of fingerprints.
So long as an individual is present on a national system with a driver's license or has done some formal national identification, their fingerprints will be recorded on a national database. Fingerprints found on a crime scene are run through these databases to pinpoint a possible suspect.
Beyond that, fingerprint technicians also take fingerprints of those who are being booked into prison or holding cells and those who require background checks. The art of taking someone's fingerprints is not as straightforward as it may seem, and fingerprint technicians make sure that it is carried out with extreme precision.
What Does A Fingerprint Technician Do?
A fingerprint technician's role goes beyond just identifying and recording criminals. They also carry out the task of identifying crime victims and finding the identity of Jane Doe's and John Doe's if a deceased has no identification and their body has not been claimed.
They aim to pinpoint whether the deceased may match missing person reports or not, which leads to assisting detectives and investigators in closing the case.
The duties of a fingerprint technician are vast and require extensive computer programs and laboratory equipment knowledge. They must take and record fingerprints, process them onto large digital databases, work hand-in-hand with biometric tools, analyze fingerprint patterns, and prepare reports.
They also may be required to testify in court.
Steps To Become A Fingerprint Technician
Step One: Meet Minimum Requirements
At the very least, fingerprint technicians must have a high school diploma or a GED. They would then need to further their education by obtaining either an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or forensic sciences.
When obtaining an associate's or bachelor's degree, it is of utmost importance that they complete coursework that pertains specifically to fingerprint analysis, including but not limited to biology and chemistry.
Step Two: Choose A Field
Most fingerprint technicians are employed by law enforcement or federal agencies. It is up to the candidate to choose which stream they would hope to pursue and assess the minimum requirements for that field.
Step Three: Obtain Certification
Before you can pursue a role as a fingerprint technician, you would need to gain certification from the International Association for Identification which allows you to carry out your required duties while ensuring that you maintain the privacy of the sensitive information that you would be working with.
Step Four: Apply For A Role
Once you are certified, you can apply for a fingerprint technician role. Part of this role also includes getting your fingerprints taken to confirm your identity and your official role in law enforcement.
What Degree Do You Need To Be A Fingerprint Technician?
While it is often said that a degree is not explicitly necessary, it is well known that having a degree would increase your job prospects and your eligibility to work in a role of law enforcement. Therefore, individuals who hope to pursue such a role are encouraged to complete either an associate's or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or forensic studies.
What Is The Average Salary For A Fingerprint Technician?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for fingerprint technicians who are actually classified as forensic science technicians is $61,930 in May 2021.
What Makes A Good Fingerprint Technician?
Fingerprint technicians are required to pay close attention to detail, have strong communication skills to communicate effectively with all stakeholders, have great problem solving and reasoning skills, and they would need to have the patience to load each new fingerprint onto the digital database.
They also need to have superior organizational skills to ensure that no files are getting mixed up or there are no occurrences of cross-contamination of case files and evidence.
What Is The Demand For Fingerprint Analysts?
According to the BLS, the job outlook for forensic science technicians, including fingerprint technicians, is expected to see a 16% career growth in the next decade between 2020 and 2030.
This shows that there is a higher-than-average demand for the role.
What Does A Fingerprint Specialist Do?
Performing many roles, a fingerprint specialist will collect, analyze, and store the fingerprints of suspects, victims, and those who have passed on.
What Is The Best Education For A Fingerprint Analyst?
Obtaining a bachelor's degree in criminology or forensic studies is the best education that you could have to pursue a role as a fingerprint technician.
What Tools Does A Fingerprint Technician Use?
They would use an ink station, an ink roller, actual ink for the fingerprint, a magnifying glass or other microscopes, and various technological and digital tools to conduct database comparisons.
If you have eagle eyes and can spot the unseen in a busy environment and similarities and differences on a microscopic level, then perhaps this role is one for you to pursue.
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