Fingerprint Specialist Career Information

How do you become a fingerprint specialist? Depending on the agency you want to work for there could be a variety of ways to become a fingerprint specialist. An education in the field of criminal justice or forensic science can be very useful and give you an advantage when applying for the job, especially at the Federal, State or county level. Often a fingerprint specialist has prior work experience in law enforcement and collection of evidence that prepares him or her for a career move into the field of fingerprinting.

A bachelor's or associate's degree in forensic science, criminal justice or a related field coupled with experience using crime lab equipment and scientific techniques to identify latent prints on various surfaces is looked upon highly. Federal agencies such as the FBI, ATF, DEA and Secret Service often require entry-level applicants for any position to hold a bachelor's degree. Previous law enforcement experience, or education in the examination, interpretation, classification using the Henry System of Fingerprint Identification, analysis and identification of fingerprints is often a plus. Fingerprint specialists should have knowledge about the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and experience utilizing AFIS is often preferred.

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What does a Fingerprint Specialist do?

Fingerprint specialists use lab equipment and forensic science techniques to analyze fingerprints gathered from crime scenes. Then they compare these prints using previously recorded ink prints on paper or through a automated database such as AFIS to match the print to a person. Depending on the department or agency, fingerprint specialists don't always work in the lab. Sometimes they get out in the field taking a suspect's fingerprint or collecting prints from a crime scene. The fingerprint specialist often instructs or provides guidance and technical advice as to fingerprinting processes and findings. They also testify in court as an expert witness about the collection, analysis and identification process. Writing detailed reports is a critical part of this career, documenting every aspect of collection to identification of a print. As the Fingerprint Specialist career has evolved, recognition of certain professional criteria has been developed. The Latent Print Certification Board of the International Association for Identification (IAI) has developed and administers a certification test for latent print examiners that sets a standard of knowledge for the profession and is often required by law enforcement agencies prior to becoming a fingerprint specialist.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The increasing demand for corroborating evidence in prosecutions drives the need for professionals with experience and educated in forensic science, including fingerprint specialists. Those with a associate's, bachelor's or graduate degree may be the most competitive for positions and find the best opportunities. As far as salaries go, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for forensic science technicians is $52,840. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. We did find positions at the federal level pay more or there was a potential to get paid more with experience and movement up the GS pay scale.

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  • Bachelor of Science - Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement (Online)

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  • Bachelor of Arts - Law Enforcement Administration (Online)

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  • Bachelor of Science - Public Administration: Law Enforcement

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  • Master's in Criminal Justice with Federal Law Enforcement Specialization (Online)

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Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.
Earning a degree may not qualify you for specialized careers that require more education or experience in the field.