Audience Question: What recommendations do you have for picking up fingerprints from a vehicle? I know you touched on this little bit during your presentation but kindly talk us through a little about that.
Andrew Reitnauer: Generally speaking, when you're examining a vehicle, there's a couple different kind of lanes you can go down. We're going to start if the vehicle was wet if it was outside. You're going to want to use small particle reagent simply because the other techniques are not going to be effective because of the water that's present. The other two options, I have done all three of these actually, you can super glue fume a car. Usually, you're going to kind of destroy a vehicle when you do it so be careful when you do it or cognizant of it. When you have a vehicle where a very violent crime has happened on the inside, whether the investigators or owner of the vehicle is kind of okay to do this, you can super glue fume the inside of the car using what is known as the cyano-shot or hotshots. They are kind of a one-stop shop for the fuming mechanism. If you use a couple of those in the inside of the car, just kind of let it do its thing for about 20 minutes. When you open the door to vent, make sure you give yourself plenty of space because fumes are going to be very toxic and irritant. When the fumes clear and when you go inside to do your visual examination, any impressions will actually develop with that super glue reaction. I have personally gotten results, prints in the rearview mirror, gear shift knobs, seat belt buckles and very nice surfaces that are shiny metal, handles on the inside, things like that. Your other option is the fingerprint powders. Most of the time, that's what is going to be used because the owner of the car may want it back and the powders can be wiped away, they can be cleaned up.
Audience Question: Knowing we have a lot of law enforcement officers on the call, what do you wish officers knew about the work that you do? How can they help make your job easier which ultimately helps them build their cases?
Andrew Reitnauer: One of the things that help us, the laboratory personnel, is if we can get the evidence with a more specific request. A lot of times we don't know the circumstances of your case. We only know that items A, B or C are submitted to the laboratory. Being able to recognize the probative nature of some of this evidence and being able to recognize that we may have the capabilities within the laboratory to assist you in processing your evidence. It can go a long way from both sides. Our main purpose is to conduct a thorough and objective examination of the evidence to get any possible results, turned around quickly so that it’s whether a field detective or attorney can act on that information for whatever purpose it may serve. I've seen it on my own experience. There's a lot of misconception about some evidence. I've been told by a law enforcement official that there’s no need to process that cash register at the community store robbery because you can't get prints on that. Yes, you can. You never really know what you can or can't get on an impression until you try . Personally I'm someone who would always try. I process some things that people would look into me like I was crazy just because you never know. Sometimes you will get an impression on something. Being able to help advocate with the evidence that's going to come to the laboratory and being able to recognize a lot of techniques can be used for something that can help you and us achieve that result that we want.
Audience Question: You talked about how challenging it is for new forensics and criminal science professionals to get a start in their career. What advice do you have to help folks who are looking to launch their career or to take it to the next level in criminal sciences?
Andrew Reitnauer: Over the past ten years or so, there has been a lot of changes in the forensic science world. We look back to 2008 when the National Academy of Sciences published their landmark report. That kind of started a big change in the whole forensic system. Now when you kind of supplement that with again the CSI effect and the fact that forensic science is on your TV every day, it's in the news, a lot of people are interested in it. It looks like an interesting thing to do. There a lot of students now pursuing a degree in forensic science to enter the laboratory system. There are a lot more students graduating than there are jobs. I'm often asked at conferences and seminars and things by recent graduates, I just spend 8 years of my life going to college and I broke the bank I got all these degrees because I have to but I can't get a job. What can I do? My recommendation is and this is for anyone in this field because it is evolving so rapidly is that you need to take the initiative to build your resume. You've got the degrees but now we need to start building the technical knowledge. It may be something as simple as participating in webinars such as what you're doing today, things like what I do at Delta Forensics. There are regional conferences that can be attended for a nominal fee, many of them are only one day. You don't have the cost of overnight expenses and things like that. In doing those kinds of things you start building your resume. listing these classes out, you start building your knowledge base. When you enter the field, you may be the more desirable candidate. For those who already are in the field, by taking the initiative to participate in additional training, you're building your qualifications. You may be needing continuing that requirement. If you are in a discipline where there is a certification process, one of the criteria for certification is a certain amount of training. By participating in these things, you are helping yourself becoming a more complete scientist or investigator. Ultimately, building your own career, you are kind of taken the bull by the horns a little bit. We’ll stop with that. I lost my train of thought, I’m sorry.
Audience Question: This is a side follow onto that question — are internships as expected in the criminal scientist arena or do you really have to have that degree done first before you can do that internship?
Andrew Reitnauer: You can do both simultaneously, really. Most college programs are requiring internships at this point. For those trying to get internships in the various laboratory systems, my recommendation is apply early. Make sure any documentation that you're going to send is done thoroughly and it is also competitive to get into this different places. Also, if you're in a geographic location where you may have more than one option, kind of like when you were applying for your colleges, apply to as many as you can in order to give yourself the best opportunity for the situation where you want to be in.
Audience Question: What situations call for fluorescent powder versus traditional versus Bichromatic? Can you discuss that again for us?
Andrew Reitnauer: Sure, It really comes down to your surface area, the colors that may be present. Magnetic powder can be used on pretty much anything with the caveat that it's probably only going to be available in black powder or maybe bichromatic powder. You're probably going to be using it on light colored surfaces to get that contrast. One of the advantages of magnetic powder versus traditional powder is that if you've ever spun that fingerprint brush, a cloud of powder is going to be everywhere while magnetic powder is very neat. Personally, I like magnetic powder. The difference between using black powder versus fluorescent versus chromatic is really coming down to the color that you're processing, you're using powder in the process. If you have a lighter colored surface, you're going to want a darker powder. If you have some whiter area, some dark areas or just not sure, I would recommend using bichromatic powder. You're going to get a result that kind of contrast the background automatically just by the manufacturing` process. Often I've used fluorescent powder on metal doors, on colored surfaces. If you have objects that you're going to process on scene that have multiple hues or colors, that fluorescence action often will give you a nice contrast between your impression and background. The one thing I would recommend is if you use fluorescent powder and you take a lift of it. Make sure you mark on that lift that it was fluorescent powder because often you can't see fluorescent powder just under normal room light. Your examiner may look at that lift and sat here's nothing on here and discard it so to speak and call it no value. Your choice of powder is going to come down in your ability to recognize your substrate or your item and choose the technique that’s going to give you the best contrast.
Audience Question: Have you run into situations with smaller agencies or departments without crime scene technicians or patrol officers are having to gather their own fingerprints for non-major crimes?
Andrew Reitnauer: That's actually more popular than you probably think, the situation. In those cases, if you are one of those members or your colleague is in that situation, I would recommend that they do try and take some of the training classes. Whether if it's something on site, by a vendor, something online, a webinar like today, share some literature, whatever they can do to build their knowledge base a little bit. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misconceptions about evidence and a lot of the techniques. Some things are being done inappropriately. It's not malicious. It just comes down to supply availability and training. In those situations that would be my recommendation just so that those members would be able to collect the best evidence possible for their case as well.
Audience Question: We've had a number of presenters talk about the importance of quality testimony or being able to provide good testimony in court. What advice do you have for both crime scene personnel as well as prosecutors who are working with these experts in terms of being able to testify well, being able to tell the science behind the story in court?
Andrew Reitnauer: The one main thing is that you need to have some open communication so that everyone is aware of the process that was done, perhaps any limitations the organization or laboratory may have. Present your findings in an objective manner. There is a lot of bias that happens especially in the criminal justice system because it is adversarial. I always try and explain to my newer examiners that when you go in and you testify, make sure you answer the questions correctly, you answer them fully and make sure you answer them the same way for both the prosecutor and the defense. We are tasked with presenting the science. We are not there to assign guilt. We are not there to advocate for innocence, anything like that. We are there simply to present our results and explain why we did what we did. A lot of times there is a lot of misconceptions. Often, sometimes, I would say I wish I had more opportunity to speak with some of the attorneys who are going to subpoena me to testify because they may not fully understand what we do. Likewise, the attorneys may have much more information from their crime scene investigators, laboratory personnel or the field detectives in order to best present their case. Often I try to make sure I have an education session with my attorney beforehand in order to make sure that we both know exactly the scope of the examination and the scope of the testimony that's about to happen.
Audience Question: There's been a lot of talk about DNA especially with regards to the highly publicized cold cases being solved. Where do you see that going? Do you see larger agencies eventually trying to build the scientific capability in-house?
Andrew Reitnauer: A lot of agencies are trying to address both the DNA evidence that may be present on various evidentiary items as well as the latent print evidence. It's not uncommon that items will come in for examination and we will take touch DNA swabs before we do our processing to try and collect both evidentiary types. You always want to try and collect all the evidence that you can, that can be used throughout the process. One thing about DNA versus prints is that DNA tends to be more expensive, thus tend to take a little bit longer just because of the examination process. It's a much more, there's a lot more equipment that has to be used, a lot more interpretations that have to be used, things like that. Ultimately it has to come down to each forensic discipline trying to apply every possible technique that they have to each case in order to collect any evidence that may be present and to reach a viable conclusion on that evidence. I would surmise that through time, as technology evolves and things like that, there will be changes to all disciplines, not just DNA. DNA is kind of always on the front burner. It will happen at firearms examination, question document examination, latent print analysis. Just in the 15 years or so that I have been in the industry, I have seen a lot of change in that way. In the wake in some of these other reports, DNA is as I mentioned before peak as a couple of years ago. There is a big quest on the research and development of new techniques, new standards. Ultimately, all the disciplines will continue to evolve, capabilities will increase, the testing will increase, all of that sort of thing.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of "Latent Print Processing: Non-Porous Evidence."