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Frequently Asked Questions

This is contingent on the backlog of cases during any given time.  The cases are generally worked in the order received.  Detective requests and violent crimes are given higher priority in most cases.  The Assistant Lab Manager can be contacted to have the request taken out of turn to be worked, if there is an urgent need to do so.

Yes, absolutely. The Crime Scene Section, as well as the entire Forensic Division, are staffed by civilian analysts who are committed to providing the best evidence available for every case worked, regardless whether the crime is committed against a person or involves property. Investigating detectives are provided any support assistance necessary in solving crimes. However, the crime clearance statistics fluctuate for a variety of different factors and it would be difficult to give a specific answer to this general a question. The Crime Scene Section strives to help solve as many crimes as possible with the evidence available.

There have been some that tried, most notably, John Dillinger, the famous bank robber who used acid to ruin the central pattern area of his fingers.  Friction ridges, however, are on the tips and sides of your fingers, as well as the phalangeal areas, the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.  The average adult male would have to strip off about a millimeter of friction ridge skin in order to disrupt the generating layer between the epidermis and dermis.  When Dillinger was shot and killed in 1934, his body was positively identified from his friction ridges.

The term ‘forge’ in fingerprints means that the print of an innocent person has been “planted” on an item of evidence, possibly by use of a cast or rubber stamp of that person’s finger.  The materials used to create these casts or stamps are problematic for the forger and a trained examiner can detect the problems with these when their suspicions are aroused.  “Fabrication” is the misrepresentation of where the print came from, such as lifting a print from a drinking glass, then saying that it came from another surface.  These can be harder to detect. 

No. Entry level employees for the Property Crime Technician position are not required to have any prior experience in the forensic disciplines. All training is conducted in-house during a 400 hour training program. The training program consists of: a five week classroom and laboratory requirement, four weeks of supervised field instruction (with an assigned field trainer), and concludes with a one week testing phase, which requires the completion of: a mock crime scene, laboratory processing of evidence, sketch, report writing, and moot court testimony. Only after successful completion of the training program, would a new employee be authorized for independent casework and formally assigned to a shift.

Yes.  Small ridges, called friction ridges, begin forming on the hands and feet of the fetus before birth, and will grow larger as the person grows, but the basic shapes and locations of the minute detail does not change throughout a person’s lifetime.  The ridge formations go through a process of differential growth where they form randomly based on the pressures within the womb. The friction ridges will persist after the death of the individual, until decomposition sets in.

Yes. Observational ride-outs are available with Property Crime Technicians (only) and are approved by the shift supervisor after a perfunctory background check is performed. A strict dress code is enforced. Acceptance into the volunteer and internship programs is granted only through Division Management approval and only after specific requirements are met. Please see all forms and information regarding these programs at: hot link @ website.org.

Yes. This is not an entry level position. (Please consult the posted job description at: hot link @ website.org). The Crime Scene Section prefers to promote from within and most Specialist vacancies are filled internally with qualified Property Crime Technicians. Many interested applicants decide to bypass the entry level position (along with the training program) and apply only for this position for which they are typically considered unqualified.

The laboratory has memorandums of understanding (MOU) agreements with several agencies that allows the laboratory to perform analyses for those agencies.  The laboratory also has a fee schedule to allow for the processing of evidence for other agencies on a case by case basis, depending on the resources available within the laboratory.

The laboratory does on occasion allow tours of the facility depending on the activities of the laboratory at the time of the request and the available resources to support a tour.  Tours should be requested via email.  In the request please provide the groups, number of attendees, purpose and possible dates.  It is best to request a tour at least 60 days in advance.

The laboratory does support outside functions depending on the activities of the laboratory at the time of the request and the available support resources.  Requests for support should be made via email.  In the request please provide the group name, number of attendees, purpose/format and dates.  It is best to request support at least 60 days in advance.

Evidence on cases must go through a law enforcement agency.  Individual citizens cannot directly submit evidence to the laboratory.  If evidence of a crime is found, it should be first reported to the Austin Police Department.
For law enforcement agencies, the laboratory’s physical evidence handbook is available on the Manuals page.  It is s detailed manual on how to request and submit evidence to the laboratory, including packaging and storage instructions to prevent the loss of evidential value.

There are volunteer and internship opportunities within the laboratory.  Please see the Interns, Volunteers and Ride Out page for additional information.

Job descriptions, minimum requirements and salary ranges are dependent on the specific positions.  Please see the job descriptions at the following link for details for specific positions.
City of Austin Job Titles, Descriptions and Pay Scales

Hard or non-porous surfaces may be cleaned with basic soap and water. However, there is no viable method known to clean black powder from a soft or porous surface – such as carpeting. Any introduction of water, such as in steam cleaning, will generally only cause the stain to spread. If there is any belief that an investigative process may stain or damage property in any way, the concern should be voiced prior to application.

A complaint may be made to any Police employee. Specific problems regarding a civilian analyst may be directed to a Crime Scene Supervisor by calling 311. Any damages that occur during the commission of a crime and or during the investigative processing should be reported to your insurance company or landlord for consideration of repair or reimbursement. A customer survey is also available and recommended regarding any customer service comments, good or bad,  at: hot link @ website.org  Thank you!

Currently, the Assistant Lab Manager will weigh the circumstances and determine whether a rush is needed.  If granted, the Latent Print Supervisor will assign an Analyst to begin work on the request, in some cases, after hours, until the request is completed.  The manager may also assign it as a priority, which means the request will be taken out of order and worked on until completed. 

Inconclusive means that there are similarities observed between the latent print and the known print during the comparison phase of the examination, but these are not sufficient to reach a conclusion of identity or exclusion.  Incomplete indicates the known exemplars available are not adequately recorded to compare with the latent print. 

Latent fingerprints obtained from crime scenes (and evidence) by Crime Scene personnel or officers are submitted to the Latent Print Section to be possibly searched and or examined for identification. As with most disciplines within the Forensic Division, a large backlog of pending cases exist. The final result of any examination is reported to an assigned detective – regardless whether the case is active or has been previously closed. The investigating detective is generally the only one able to release this type of case information. Please refer to the Latent Print Section for additional procedural information at: hot link @ website.org.

Research has shown that there is no scientific basis for requiring a set number of corresponding minutiae in two prints in order to declare an identification.  Every latent print is unique in the way it was deposited on the surface, and factors such as pressure, movement, the condition of the surface itself, the amount of residue, as well as the quantitative and qualitative condition of the visible features within the latent print all play a part in identification.  The clarity of the known exemplars also affect the ability to make an identification.

A request for evidence processing for latent prints is different than a request to have existing latent prints compared.  It would be preferable to submit a latent print comparison request (LP) along with the latent print processing request (CSL) at the same time.  The comparison request will be suspended until the processing is completed.  If no latent prints are developed, the LP request will be administratively closed.  If prints are developed, the status will be changed from suspended and be assigned.

This means that an AFIS inquiry has returned a candidate with sufficient similarity to the latent print to warrant a full comparison, to be conducted in the future by a Latent Print Analyst.   A report of a viable candidate does NOT mean that there have been any latent prints identified with this individual.  AFIS systems are viewed as tools that help locate candidates that may (or may not) be subsequently identified to the latent prints.  On-screen visual associations are not considered analyses and fall short of the requirements necessary to positively identify a person as the donor of a latent print.

That depends on a few factors, including the type of surface that is touched.  Smooth, clean, dry surfaces are the best.  Prints can be obtained through various methods from a wide variety of surfaces.  Residue transfer is also a factor.  Something must be picked up or left behind on the surface touched.  In some cases, friction ridges are impressed into a soft material, such as putty or a stick of butter. 

They’re both useful tools in the area of personal identification, just as a screwdriver and a hammer are both useful, but designed to perform differently.  One should not replace the other.  A good investigator will want to utilize all available evidence to build his case.

No. Civilian analysts continue to investigate other crime scenes as they are reported and the same analyst may not be available or on duty, etc. to respond to your next request for service, if needed. Call 911 for immediate assistance or 311 to report additional information.

Most latent prints searched through the AFIS systems will be registered into the unsolved latent databases when there is no immediate association.  They will automatically continue to be checked against all new sets of known prints as they are entered into the system.  Occasionally, a registered latent print will be associated with a new set of fingerprints, and an assignment for comparison will be generated and the case detective notified.  All AFIS-suitable latent prints in open murder investigations will be rerun through the systems every two years.

Hard science courses and those in technical writing can be more beneficial than course work primarily designed for police employment only. Many hours are spent in the Crime Scene Laboratory processing various types of evidence for friction ridge impressions and writing detailed analysis reports for all actions taken – both in the field and in the laboratory. The Crime Scene Section, as well as the entire Forensic Division, are staffed by civilian analysts who have NO enforcement duties or authority, however, we are employed by the Police Department and work closely with sworn patrol officers and investigating detectives. Degrees in Criminal Justice, Corrections, Psychology, English, etc. are nevertheless routinely considered.

The APD Latent Print Section follows a Limited Examination policy as a tool to help manage the backlog.   Limited examinations are those in which one latent print is identified with each individual named in the request .  The final report will indicate when all latent prints have not been analyzed or compared. Limited examinations are only performed on property crime cases and certain person crime cases designated by the Supervisor.

If you’ve ever been in the military or applied for a job that requires a background check, your fingerprints are probably on file somewhere.

In most cases persons wearing gloves will not leave friction ridge prints at scenes of crimes or on items of evidence.   It has been our experience, however, that many crimes are crimes of opportunity, and there is little or no effort by the perpetrator to avoid detection. 

Most latent prints searched through the AFIS systems will be registered into the unsolved latent databases when there is no immediate association.  They will automatically continue to be checked against all new sets of known prints as they are entered into the system.  Occasionally, a registered latent print will be associated with a new set of fingerprints, and an assignment for comparison will be generated and the case detective notified. 

AFIS stands for ‘Automated Fingerprint Identification System’, however, the system itself doesn’t identify fingerprints.  That’s up to a qualified Latent Print Examiner, trained to competency, who has conducted a thorough analysis, comparison, and evaluation of the prints.  The AFIS systems are simply database searching tools that search large collections of fingerprint images and compile lists of most-likely donors. 

Permanence and individuality.  Friction ridges have been shown to be permanent throughout a person’s lifetime, and no two individuals who have ever lived have been found to have the same fingerprints in exact detail.  There have also been decades of statistical studies that indicate the chances for two people to have the same fingerprint in exact detail is so remote as to be mathematically impossible.

 

When a viable candidate is developed through an AFIS inquiry, no scientifically-sustainable examination has yet been performed.  Our laboratory policies enforce complete analyses along with administrative and/or technical review prior to the results being published.  One of the intended consequences of not disclosing the name prior to release of the final report  is that it prevents false or inaccurate assumptions from being formed about a candidate’s role, if any, in the offense being investigated.

We do compare the prints of victims of certain violent offenses, and in certain other circumstances where it would make sense to do so.  In most cases, however, we do not have the resources to do so simply for elimination purposes, especially in crimes against property.  Our main goal is to identify latent prints with potential suspects to link them to the crime being investigated, or to exclude possible suspects as the depositors of those latent prints.

Whether a detective is assigned to your case or whether you will be contacted is largely dependent on viable leads associated with the case. You will not be contacted by any civilian analyst. Additional information pertaining to your case may be given to 311 operators who will enter the information into the case record for any investigating detective to utilize.