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Fingerprint Classifiers

California Occupational Guide Number 203
Interest Area 2
1998

THE JOB

People trying to conceal their identity can change their name, dye their
hair, or move to another location, but they cannot change their own
fingerprints.  These distinctive skin ridges remain for a lifetime.

The identification of people through the examination, classification, and
searching of fingerprints is the job of the FINGERPRINT CLASSIFIER, also
known as Fingerprint Examiner, Identification Specialist/ Technician,
Forensic Specialist/Technician, Latent Fingerprint Analyst, or Fingerprint
Expert.

Law enforcement agencies routinely fingerprint arrested persons to find out
their true identity, to determine if they are wanted for crimes in another
jurisdiction, and to disclose any past criminal record.  Applicants for jobs
requiring security clearance and those applying for licenses and permits are
also fingerprinted to protect the public.  In city and county police
departments, most Fingerprint Classifiers work mainly with solving
burglaries and robberies.

In the field, Latent Fingerprint Analysts search a given area to locate,
photograph, and lift fingerprints.  They also search for latent prints at
crime scenes and run these through the automated files of fingerprint images
of known subjects.  The Classifier may also take the fingerprints of corpses
and appear in court as an expert witness. 

Fingerprint classification begins with determining the various types of
fingerprint patterns.  Fingerprints are grouped into four distinct patterns,
each further divided into subgroups by means of subtle and minute
differences within each group.

A person's fingerprints are obtained on an 8" x 8" card by inking each
fingertip and making an impression on the card.  The name, birthdate,
height, weight, hair and eye color, and other information such as
occupation, identifying scars, marks, and tattoos are recorded on the
fingerprint card.

One of the major job duties of the fingerprint classifier is to positively
identify people.  When originally developed, the science of fingerprint
identification required manually classifying and searching hundreds of
thousands of fingerprint cards to find fingerprints matching those on the
card being searched.  If no match was found, the card was filed under its
unique classification.

Modern computer technology has been applied to the science and requires
classifiers to access automated files containing both demographic (age, sex,
year of birthdate, etc.) as well as images of fingerprint patterns.  The
classifier codes the fingerprint card, loads it into an image scanner, and
waits for the results.  The California Identification ("Cal-ID") System
automated file contains the computerized fingerprint images of nearly eight
million subjects and is maintained by the California Department of Justice,
Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information in Sacramento.  It is used
statewide by law enforcement agencies in cities and counties who do not have
their own computerized systems.  In addition, the fingerprints of 2 million
subjects are maintained in the Department of Justice's manual files.  The
Los Angeles Police Department has its own computerized file with over 1.5
million prints on file.


WORKING CONDITIONS

The examination and classification of fingerprint patterns are exacting
work.  When using the automated process, most of the work is done sitting at
a computer. Manual searches are conducted with the aid of a magnifying
glass.  Fingerprint Classifiers who work in the field must be able to walk,
bend, and stoop at a variety of crime scenes.


EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK

The State of California Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information
(CCI)  located in Sacramento employs about 105 Identification Specialists
from entry-level technicians through the supervisory levels.  Many city and
county police departments like the Los Angeles and Sacramento Police
Departments employ a staff of Fingerprint Classifiers; however, in some
communities, such as the City of San Francisco, police officers, deputy
sheriffs, and clerical workers take fingerprints and investigate them using
existing computer and manual systems. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not employ Fingerprint
Classifiers within California; instead, local agents lift prints and send
them to Washington, D.C., where they are classified and investigated.


WAGES, HOURS, AND FRINGE BENEFITS

Classifiers employed by the California Department of Justice, Bureau of
Criminal Identification and Information earn from $2,244 to $3,523 per month
as Criminal Identification Specialists.  Wages for county and city employees
in this classification vary from area to area within the state. All jobs are
civil service positions.  The salary for FBI Fingerprint Classifiers ranges
from about $26,000 to $36,000 per year.

Working hours for those employed by Police or Sheriff's Departments could be
day, swing or night shift.

Fringe benefits of sick leave, vacation pay, medical and dental insurance,
and retirement pay are offered by most employers.


ENTRANCE REQUIREMENTS AND TRAINING

A high school education or its equivalent is usually required of applicants.
Candidates for these positions will probably compete through taking a civil
service exam. Some agencies may also require an associate of arts degree or
several units of criminology, law enforcement, or police science.  There are
also agencies who will only accept persons who have worked in the Fingerprint
Section in some capacity such as Records or Fingerprint Clerk. 

Fingerprint courses of one to two weeks duration are occasionally given both
at community colleges throughout California and by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and may be helpful for promotional purposes.  Computer
courses, as well as basic courses, would be valuable in this occupation.
Because chemicals are involved in the science of lifting fingerprints,
courses in chemistry and health and safety would also be helpful. 

Special qualifications that may also be required by individual agencies
include: proof of good eyesight and memory, a valid California driver's
license, and the ability to type.  Any person with an arrest record other
than minor traffic citations will usually not be hired.


ADVANCEMENT

Promotion in most government agencies is by civil service examination.
State civil service positions begin  with the Criminal Identification
Specialist job series and advance into positions in criminal intelligence.
In some law enforcement agencies, there is limited chance for advancement
unless a person is a police officer or Fingerprint Clerk.


FINDING THE JOB

Law enforcement agencies hire from civil service lists created by
competitive examination.  Information about civil service job announcements
and testing may be obtained from the appropriate city, county, state and
federal civil service commission or personnel departments.


ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION

International Association for Identification
2535 Pilot Knob Rd., Suite 117
Mendota Heights, MN 55120
(612) 681-8566
http://www.theiai.org/

International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc.
515 N. Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 836-6767
http://www.theiacp.org

For information on jobs with the federal government, contact the nearest U.S.
Office of Personnel Management Job  Information Center, or their Internet
home page, www.opm.gov.

RELATED OCCUPATIONAL GUIDES

Law Enforcement Occupations       No. 457
Crime and Intelligence Analysts   No. 557
Criminalists                      No. 558

OCCUPATIONAL CODE REFERENCES

DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 4th Ed., 1991)
Fingerprint Classifier        375.387-010

OES (Occupational Employment Statistics) System
Other Professional, Para-professional, and 
Technical Workers                  399990

Source: State of California, Employment Development Department,
        Labor Market Information Division, Information Services Group,
        (916) 262-2162.

Note:  This is NOT a job opening.  The purpose of This California Occupational Guide is to provide you with useful information to help you make career decisions.   If you are searching for a job, go to:

California Occupational Guides


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