It always looks so easy on TV… the Crime Scene Investigators always show up in the latest model cars, stylishly dressed to collect evidence in ideal weather conditions. Back at the lab – presto! The prints are clear and easily read – and the criminal is apprehended.
If the real world of crime and justice were only so simple?
- an overview of the science of fingerprints,
- the underlying fundamental principles of fingerprints as a reliable means of personal identification
- a historical perspective to classification and examination process.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Andrew, you’re new to the Justice Clearinghouse audience. Can you tell us more about yourself?
Andrew Reitnauer: I’m originally from Pottstown, PA and a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan! I’m currently residing in Northern VA with my family. I started my career with the Boston Police Department when the Latent Print Unit was re-launched in 2005. That was a tremendous opportunity for me to start my career, with the complete rebuilding of the laboratory. In Boston, I was trained as a latent print examiner, and also become a senior crime scene responder from the lab. In 2008, I joined the NYPD in the Latent Print Development Unit, and also continued as a senior crime scene responder from the laboratory. I joined the Nassau County Medical Examiner following their decision to close and re-open the forensic laboratory in 2011. There I became the section supervisor and technical leader for the latent print unit.
In 2016, I relocated to the Virginia area, moving into a position with the United States Postal Laboratory, and later that year as a Crime Scene Supervisor in Washington DC. Earlier this year I became the Technical Lead Scientist.
I am also the owner of Delta Forensics, where I have developed a number of training programs, both on-site and online for forensic science students and current practitioners. I have had a dedication to the training of members within the scope of forensic science, and I very much enjoy that part of my professional life.
I never go into an examination with an expectation of results,
and I recognize that my job is to conduct my examination to the best of my ability,
obtaining the proper result.
JCH: What are the most common misunderstandings law enforcement or prosecutors might have about latent prints?
Andrew: One of the biggest hurdles that we are facing in the forensic science field stems from the “CSI Effect.” Since forensic scientists always obtain the vital result on popular TV shows, everyone thinks that is the norm. Especially in the latent print discipline, more often than not, we actually do not develop any usable impressions. Latent prints are a chance impression, very fragile in nature, and can be negatively affected rather easily. This is a subject that often needs to be discussed, or testified to, in order to properly discuss the results, and perhaps more importantly, the “Why” of the processing and examination methods.
JCH: You’ve worked a lot of cases… What’s some of the most important things you’ve learned during your experience in the field with regards to latent prints?
Andrew: One of the main things I have learned is that ALL cases need to be addressed in an objective, unbiased, and thorough manner. I never go into an examination with an expectation of results, and I recognize that my job is to conduct my examination to the best of my ability, obtaining the proper result. It can be easy to get caught up in the elements of the crime, or allow the circumstances to effect the examination decisions that are made. We have seen this type of circumstance lead to issues within the forensic science field in a public forum. By ensuring that the proper sequence was followed, best practices we utilized, and the establishment of quality assurance within the examination method, I can be assured that the results were obtained correctly.
Especially in the latent print discipline, more often than not,
we actually do not develop any usable impressions.
Latent prints are a chance impression, very fragile in nature,
and can be negatively affected rather easily.
JCH: You’ve clearly gained a lot of experience – but the work you do can be challenging. What keeps you motivated and inspired to keep going – given the pressures people in your profession face?
Andrew: One of my primary goals has become the advancement of my field. I was very fortunate to have gained the experience I have, and I was trained by some of the very best that this field has to offer. Through many of the social and educational outlets available, there has been a tremendous influx of students with a desire to become a forensic scientist. Likewise, there is also an increased demand on current practitioners due to the evolution of this field. I often speak to students about the importance of involvement and building their skill set through training prior to entering their career. When I have the chance to conduct training sessions, teach our practitioners and aspiring scientists, and develop new methods and procedures, it allows me the opportunity to make sure the scientists entering the field behind me will be better than I am, thus continuing the progression of forensic science.
Click Here to Watch “Introduction to Latent Prints.”