Forensic Science in the Real World – A Waiting Game

We have all tuned in to the many CSI dramas on television and seen a police detective submit evidence to the crime lab that is tested in the next few hours and a suspect is arrested. In the real world, the evidence submitted to crime labs may not be processed for months or even years, especially for non-violent crimes.

In Austin Texas, the DPS crime lab often has a 9-12 month wait for processing fingerprints from routine crimes like burglaries. When a fingerprint is collected from a crime scene, it is submitted to a latent print examiner for analysis. A clear print can be entered into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and searched. AFIS has millions of fingerprints collected in local, state and federal databases. The computer search process is rapid, but even with a match or “hit”, a suspect cannot be named immediately. A trained latent print examiner must look at the prints side-by-side and make a multi-point comparison of the ridge detail. A clear print can be processed in under an hour, but a partial or smudged print could take several days or weeks to process. This is not good news for victims of burglaries. A suspect may not be named for months and in the meantime, unidentified criminals can continue their crime spree in your neighborhood unchecked.

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