Not all jobs in criminal justice have front-line responsibilities or require you to carry a gun. You can play a major role in putting criminals away working behind-the-scenes as a fingerprint specialist. Also called fingerprint examiners or analysts, these forensic technicians collect, study and match fingerprints as employees of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and provide expert testimony in court. Training for this growing career takes place in the classroom and on the job.
Although some smaller police departments accept experienced candidates with a high school diploma or two years of post-secondary education, the majority of law-enforcement agencies, especially those in the federal government, require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a biological science. A criminal justice degree includes exposure to investigation procedures and courtroom testimony, two key responsibilities of a fingerprint specialist. Otherwise, you can study these as elective courses, attend classes at a community college or learn online.
On-the Job Training
Degree in hand, prospective fingerprint specialists need to pursue lab experience. Entry-level fingerprint examiners work as interns to master their craft and become adept at evidence-handling procedures. Work experience is a prerequisite for professional certification, which most employers require, but give new employees up to a year to acquire.
Job-specific coursework allows you to gain skills in fingerprint classification and two subspecialties -- latent and tenprint fingerprinting -- in preparation for certification exams. Latent fingerprints cannot be seen by the naked eye; forensic technicians must learn the chemical and mechanical methods used to collect them. Tenprinting involves taking rolled impressions of prints from all ten fingers. Expect employers to require certification from the International Association for Identification, or IAI. You need at least 80 hours of IAI-approved study for latent print certification and 40 hours for tenprint certification.
Your employer may send you to a police academy, programs offered through the National Institute of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation's biometric training school to learn the art of print collection, classification and identification and use of national databases such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and National Crime Information Center. Fingerprint specialists employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration attend the DEA's own training academy. As a trained fingerprint specialist, you can get satisfaction from giving the families of victims a sense of closure.
2016 Salary Information for Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians earned a median annual salary of $56,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, forensic science technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $42,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $74,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 15,400 people were employed in the U.S. as forensic science technicians.
- Crime Museum: Forensics and Investigation; Fingerprints
- Police Employment.com: Fingerprint Analyst
- City of Tampa: Latent Fingerprint Specialist
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook; Forensic Science Technicians
- University of Minnesota Crookston: Criminal Justice, BS Curriculum
- Saint Leo University: Bachelors in Criminal Justice
- Grossmont College: Administration of Justice Program; Core Curriculum and Accompanying Area Emphasis
- FBI: Recording Legible Fingerprints
- Criminal Justice Degree, College and Career Blog: Latent Fingerprint Examiner
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Forensic Science Technicians
- Career Trend: Forensic Science Technicians
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images