(The following article first appeared in the January 1996 issue of the Iowa Division I.A.I. publication –4N6)
This short article is intended as a reminder to investigators that latent finger, palm, and footprints are relatively fragile items. They are easily destroyed, so correct packaging is essential.
Case in point, the D.C.I. Criminalistics Lab recently received evidence which consisted of a firearm (pistol), and three rounds of ammunition. The items were wrapped in a wool cloth cap, and were shipped via U.S. mail. The submitting agency requested that the items be processed for latent fingerprints.
Three weeks later, an agency brought (via personal delivery) a firearm (pistol) wrapped in a handkerchief and stuffed in a plastic bag. It was requested that this firearm too be examined for fingerprints. I am beginning to believe that common sense has taken a leave of absence from some officers when it comes to packaging evidence.
When requesting examinations for analysis, remember.
THE EVIDENCE MUST BE PACKAGED SO THAT NOTHING RUBS AGAINST OR OTHERWISE COMES IN CONTACT WITH THE EVIDENCE.
*** Do not use plastic bags.
*** Do not wrap in cloth.
*** Do not place the item loose in a container.
If you ship evidence in the mail or by UPS etc., you can be assured that the package will not be handled with necessary care. It will be thrown, tossed, kicked, and dropped. Accordingly, the evidence MUST be wrapped so that it does not move around within the package.
You will be far better off to examine, dust, photograph, and lift the fingerprints from the evidence. Then, if necessary, you could then just submit the fingerprints for examination if needed. Having twenty three years of experience as a police officer, five years as a Criminalist, and going to more crime scenes than I can remember, I KNOW that you have more of a chance to recover fingerprints from evidence when it has been only a few hours since the crime occurred.
As a reminder, remember to concentrate your fingerprint processing to the points of entry and exit of the crime scene. It is an accepted fact that at least 65% of fingerprint identifications come from these locations of the scene.
Oh, by the way there were no fingerprints recovered from the evidence submitted in the two cases described in the beginning of this article.
BARRY CUSHMAN, Criminalist
Division of Criminal Investigation
Wallace State Office Building
Des Moines, IA 50613