Fingerprint Analyst Career Profile

Get Info on Job Duties, Salary Potential and Education Requirements

man is seen using a mobile phone in the light of a projection of a thumbprint

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For most of us, it may seem that fingerprint identification and analysis is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to identifying suspects and solving crimes. Today, comparing fingerprints is a staple of forensic science, and fingerprint analysts who study them are an indispensable part of any case where the identity of a suspect is in question. Though other identification techniques may emerge and evolve the science, fingerprint analysis remains an important career within criminology and forensic science.

A Brief History of Fingerprint Analysis

Though it's conventional wisdom now, the notion that fingerprints are unique to each individual person only developed in the latter half of the 1800s. The first practical use of fingerprint identification came in 1858 when British Administrator Sir William Herschel began requiring a fingerprint and a signature on civil contracts for verification purposes. The science was further developed by Scottish Doctor Henry Faulds, who published a paper in Tokyo that proposed the use of fingerprints as unique identifiers and using printers' ink as a way to get prints.

In 1903, two inmates in the Leavenworth Prison System with the same name and similar features presented a problem for guards and administrators. In order to identify and keep track of the prisoners, fingerprints were taken and kept. Soon after, prisons across the country began keeping fingerprint records of inmates. Just two years later, the U.S. Army began using fingerprints to identify soldiers, and finally, law enforcement agencies followed suit.

Over the course of just a few short decades, fingerprint analysis grew from an obscure pseudo-science to the standard for identification across all industries and disciplines. Ever since it has been an indispensable component of any thorough criminal investigation.

As reliable as fingerprint analysis is, it's not exactly like what you may have seen on television. Though shows like CSI are quite popular, they have a tendency to take some poetic license with the speed at which analysis may occur and the "glamour" of the job. If you're basing a desire to work as a fingerprint analyst by what you see in the film, you may want to take a second look.

Duties of a Fingerprint Analyst

Most of the work performed by fingerprint analysts is done in a laboratory. A crime scene investigator, police officer or detective will locate, identify and "lift" fingerprints from the surfaces of crimes scenes in the field, preserve them and send them to the lab for comparison. The job of analysts is to compare fingerprints against known samples in order to identify who they belong to.

Much of the job requires long hours at a desk or table, studying a computer screen or fingerprint cards to compare the lines and swirls in the prints, looking for a match.

Fingerprint analysts are also responsible for submitting reports of their findings to the detectives working the case, and they may be called upon to provide court testimony if a case where identity is in question goes to trial.

Education And Skill Requirements

Specific requirements to work as a fingerprint analyst vary by employer, but at a minimum, a high school education and at least a year of relevant work experience are required to become a fingerprint analyst. In fact, though, you are more likely to see that agencies prefer candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in one of the natural sciences, with a minor in criminology, criminal justice or forensics.

In addition to a degree, you'll need to obtain specific training in fingerprint identification and analysis. This may be provided by an employing agency or offered at a criminal justice school, at a law enforcement or forensics academy, or through a crime scene certificate program.

The International Association for Identification has established a latent print examiner certification, which requires a minimum of 80 hours of relevant, association-approved training, two years work experience and a bachelor's degree.

Job Growth and Salary Outlook

Like other forensic science technicians, fingerprint analysts earn around $52,000 per year, on average. The actual salary will vary depending on the agency, region, education, and experience. 

Though DNA analysis is growing, which in turn is de-emphasizing the importance of fingerprints in some cases, the fact is that DNA analysis is not always practical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth for all forensic science technician careers, including fingerprint analysis, is expected to remain above average for the foreseeable future 

Is this Career Path Right for You?

Fingerprint analysis takes patience and remarkable attention to detail. The work involves long hours indoors, but it can be quite interesting. If you have a knack for comparison and analysis, a career as a fingerprint analyst may just be the perfect criminology career for you.