by Marissa Felinczak
Fingerprint identification has been around for many years and has been extremely useful in identifying suspects and tying a person to a crime scene. Fingerprint identification is the study of friction ridges on the finger and the use of specific markers, minutiae.
The first step in identifying a fingerprint is determining whether the print is a loop, whorl, or arch. Loops are the most common. Whorls are less common, but still found often. Arches only make up about 5% of fingerprints. These characteristics are general; everyone has these different types of fingerprint types.
The next step is determining specific minutiae, which make the fingerprints individual to each person. There are several different types of minutiae:
- Ridge ending – is the end of a ridge
- Ridge bifurcation – is a single ridge that divides into two separate ridges
- Short ridge – is a ridge that travels a small distance and then ends
- Island –is a single small ridge inside a short ridge or ridge ending that is not connected to any other ridges
- Ridge enclosure – is a single ridge that bifurcates and reunites shortly afterward to continue as a single ridge
- Spur – is a bifurcation with a short ridge branching off a longer ridge
- Crossover or bridge – is a short ridge that runs between two parallel ridges
- Delta – is a Y-shaped ridge meeting
- Core – is a U-turn in the ridge pattern
Fingerprint identification is a skill that takes time to master and requires a lot of patience. It is also one of the most commonly known fields of forensic sciences. A common misconception of fingerprint identification is that IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) just matches the fingerprints for the analyst, this is incorrect. IAFIS will give possible matches (if any) for a print, but then a fingerprint analyst has to sit down and compare the fingerprints by hand in order to determine a match.
Overall, while fingerprint identification isn’t a hard science, it is highly accepted and will continued to be used in criminal cases for years to come.