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Forensics experts on TV and in the movies play an important role in helping the police or detectives nab the bad guys. Fingerprint experts in real life also have a significant function, whether they work with a police force or a government agency. The requirements to become a fingerprint expert are rigorous, and demand specialized education and training.
Fingerprint experts do more than peer at fingerprints through magnifying glasses. The job requires matching a sample from an unknown source with fingerprint databases of known samples to identify the person who left the unknown print. Fingerprint experts prepare reports to describe their analysis and support their conclusions in identifying a particular individual. Attorneys may also call fingerprint experts to testify as expert witnesses to offer their opinion about evidence presented in court or the techniques followed by a crime lab, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fingerprint experts begin their training by studying subjects such as criminal justice and forensic science. A bachelor's degree is commonly expected; a Master of Science in forensic science provides greater career options in the field, while a doctoral degree allows you to teach at the college level. Many fingerprint experts also complete at least one internship as part of their education, possibly at a local police station. It usually isn't necessary to specialize in fingerprint analysis as an undergraduate. Instead, concentrate on gaining a strong overall background as well as good oral and written communication skills, the BLS states.
Specialized Training and Salary
After finishing college or graduate school, a would-be fingerprint expert must complete demanding specialized training. Latent print analysis training allows the fingerprint expert to match a single or even a partial print with a known sample, while tenprint analysis training is designed to teach fingerprint experts how to identify full sets of fingerprints. Salaries for fingerprint experts vary, as of 2011 the average salary range as approximately $30,000 to $47,000 for individuals with less than five years' experience. Recognized experts can earn more than $80,000 per year, according to the InnerBody criminal justice website.
Minimum Standards and Certification
According to the Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology, or SWGFAST, the minimum training required for fingerprint experts is six months for tenprint training and one year of latent fingerprint training. The recommended period is one year for tenprint and two years for latent fingerprint training. To obtain latent print certification from the International Association of Identification, a fingerprint expert must complete at least 80 hours of certified training in addition to a bachelor's degree, according to InnerBody.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Forensic Scientists -- A Career in the Crime Lab
- Crime Scene Investigator Network: Job Posting -- Forensic Fingerprint Expert City of Dallas, Texas
- Forensic Services, Scottish Police Services Authority: Fingerprint Expert
- InnerBody: How to Become a Fingerprint Expert
- SWGFAST: Standards for Minimum Qualifications and Training to Competency for Friction Ridge Examiner Trainees (Latent /Tenprint)
- Education-Portal.com: How to Become a Forensic Technologist
- Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology : Message . . . Chair
- Interpol: Method For Fingerprint Identification
- International Association for Identification: IAI Training Opportunities
- International Association for Identification: IAI Training Courses
- Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology : FAQ
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences: So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist!
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.