The Los Angeles Times profiles what it calls the “the harried, disordered” fingerprint unit of the Los Angeles Police Department, which it says has been marred by inadequate training, antiquated facilities, poor supervision, careless handling of evidence and other shortfalls. As focus in law enforcement has turned increasingly to the promise of DNA analysis to solve crimes, the fingerprint unit has languished as a neglected but heavily used cornerstone of the LAPD. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with about 80 forensic print specialists rotating through three shifts.
They are summoned by detectives to roughly 24,000 crime scenes every year and about 60% of the time are able to collect fingerprints. The unit has long struggled to stay on top of its workload, and work often backs up. Currently, fingerprints from 3,018 property crime cases need to be entered into the computer database, and 1,052 cases are awaiting a more exacting manual analysis. The unit has not tended to requests from detectives trying to solve 320 homicides and other cold cases, according to department figures provided to The Times. Senior LAPD officials made some improvements to the unit but failed to address many other serious shortcomings.