|Posted on Friday, March 16, 2001 - 08:44 am: ||
Below edited/updated by webservant on 4 July 2013:
Some "Fingerprint Examiners" are genuine crime laboratory forensic scientists specializing in fingerprint (and palm/sole impression) examination, but Fingerprint Examiner generally is the job title used by agencies (including the FBI) for relatively low-paid technicians (previously known as fingerprint clerks) who work primarily with arrest record or civil applicant (background check) fingerprint files. Fingerprint Examiners typically do not go to court and present expert testimony about fingerprint identifications involving crime scene latent prints. You can complete Fingerprint Examiner training in three to six months at many agencies and a college degree is not always required.
Latent Print Examiner is the title most commonly used for fingerprint experts with the training, experience and ability to examine evidence from any type of offense, come to the correct conclusion during comparisons against inked prints and/or computer (AFIS) database candidates and present their findings effectively in court. The FBI calls their Latent Print Examiners "Fingerprint Specialists." Many agencies use the term Forensic Scientist or Forensic Analyst for Latent Print Examiners. There are even still a couple of federal Special Agents who work in crime labs as Latent Print Examiners.
There is no college course or degree program (including any correspondence course) which produces Latent Print Examiners. The University of West Virginia and several other higher education institutions are providing good foundational knowledge related to forensic identification.
The journeyman level Latent Print Examiner salary for American law enforcement in 2013 is $40,000 to $157,000 per year, depending on location and agency (federal agencies tend to pay best). Supervisory Latent Print Examiners can make even more money. Starting out, you may have to accept $25,000 to $30,000 as an intern/student.
Typically, the best way to get your foot in the door is to get a four-year degree with a science background. A forensic science degree is not necessarily the best. Consider course work in chemistry (for sure), and possibly biology, computer technology and statistical analysis for a broad and valuable background before latent print examination training. Once accepted by an agency, expect to train hard for two solid years (at least) before you are turned loose to work cases unsupervised (though verification of every identification will occur throughout your career). Crime scene examination duties vary by agency. Many of the higher paid Latent Print Examiners only go to the most serious offenses.
Latent Print Examination is not for everyone. It is not enough to just be a well-educated scientist using accurate procedures. Many persons lack the ability (due to form blindness or other factors) and struggle to perform at the minimum level of competency despite excellent training and long experience. Nearly half those attempting international Latent Print Examiner Certification fail... because they cannot find enough of the required identifications within the time allotted (not because they are making erroneous identifications).
If you want to get your feet wet and experience whether or not you have what it takes to become part of the profession which sends more persons to jail than all the other forensic sciences combined, sign-up for latent print training in your area at one of the “Upcoming Training Courses” listed here.
--Ed German, CLPE, FFS