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What is a Latent Print Examiner?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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A latent print examiner is a crime scene analyst who examines items for fingerprints and compares any fingerprints found against a central database. Latent fingerprints, which are impressions made by distinct ridges in the skin that become coated with sweat, are not often visible to the naked eye. Without exception, every person's fingerprints are unique and appear the same from 16 weeks of gestation until death unless severe injury occurs.

One of the main jobs of a latent print examiner is to utilize chemical and physical fingerprint identification techniques. Another part of the job is fingerprint analysis. A fingerprint examiner seeks to find the many distinct characteristics possessed by each and every fingerprint. Since there are over 100 unique identifiers per fingerprint, even a partial print may be considered fingerprint evidence. Latent prints may easily be smudged, wiped or affected by some course of events, making it a necessity for the examiner to have a keen eye and thorough understanding of the methods and technology used in this field of criminology.

Latent fingerprints can be made visible in a number of ways. Dusting with pigment, the use of chemicals such as ninhydron or cyanoacrylate vapors as well as inking are all valid methods that a latent print examiner may use. The method of visualizing a fingerprint depends upon a number of factors, including but not limited to the composition and sensitivity of the surface the prints are on, climate and the size of the object that is being examined for fingerprints.

Once these fingerprints are identified and analyzed, the criminologist may then begin comparing the fingerprints found to a database of prints, or prints taken from a person suspected of committing the crime. Fingerprinting a suspect includes pressing their fingers in ink and rolling them onto paper in a controlled, scientific manner. From there, the latent print examiner can scan the suspect's fingerprints into a computer and compare them with the prints found at a crime scene, thereby eliminating or confirming a suspect.

The qualifications for becoming a latent print examiner vary by location and place of employment. Within the United States, for example, it is generally accepted that work in this position, a person must have achieved certification through the International Association of Identification (IAI), which also has affiliates in more than a dozen other countries. Although different locations have different requirements for employment, certification through the IAI is accepted almost everywhere.

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Discussion Comments

By JaneAir — On Feb 08, 2012

@Monika - I just recently learned this was a job of its own too. I was looking at the classified section of my newspaper recently, and I saw an advertisement looking for a "certified latent print examiner." They also wanted a few years of experience.

Also, as for most jobs in the criminal justice system, anyone who applied would have to pass a background check. I guess that makes sense considering a latent print examiner works at crime scenes.

By Monika — On Feb 08, 2012

I had no idea fingerprint technology was so advanced! I also wasn't aware that there was a specific job just to do fingerprinting. For some reason I always thought it was part of a police officers general job description. Shows how much I know about forensics!

Anyway, I'm pretty amazed that they can get evidence even from a partial print. I suppose it makes sense though, if there are a hundred unique identifiers in one tiny fingerprint. It seems like you wouldn't need a whole print to make an identification in that case.

By starrynight — On Feb 07, 2012

I was the victim of an assault many years ago. A man followed ran up to my door as I was coming home one night and forced his way in. After the whole thing happened, the police sent someone to do a latent print examination of my door and a few other areas of my apartment.

I was surprised at how involved the whole process was. First, my roommate and I had to go to the police station and get fingerprinted, along with other frequent visitors to our apartment. This was so they could eliminate the fingerprints that belonged to us.

Then, they came and dusted the door for prints. Unfortunately they didn't find any, but I'm glad they at least tried.

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