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Within the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, the Fingerprint Unit functions as a vital element in the identification, investigation, and conviction of criminal offenders in the City of Fort Lauderdale. The use of fingerprints as a means of identification is, at the present time, the only judicially unchallenged method of positive identification and has been such since the beginning of this century.

Established by a little known incident at Leavenworth Prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a subject with the name of Will West was booked into this prison. His criminal history was extracted from prison files using a photo match and body measurements based on the then accepted Bertillon method. At this point, it came to the prison authority's attention that William West was already incarcerated at Leavenworth. The two men were brought together and fingerprinted. In spite of the coincidence to their matching names, body parts, and even their physical appearances, an examination of their fingerprints revealed no likeness whatever. The use of fingerprints as the only infallible means for identification was established.

The collection of almost a half million fingerprint cards in the files at Fort Lauderdale Police Department constitute a collection which began in the early 1970s when the first set of fingerprints was rolled. The Department adds prints at a rate of approximately 1,500 per month. Fingerprint cards are held in perpetuity and may not be discarded unless court ordered. Juvenile offender fingerprint cards are kept separate from adult cards and may not be combined. When a juvenile reaches 18 years of age and commits an offense, a whole new record is begun.

The epidermis on both the palmar area of the hands and the plantar area of the feet is corrugated, very different from the skin on the rest of our bodies. This corrugated skin consists of raised ridges. These ridges have tiny holes on their surfaces called sweat pores and are constantly exuding perspiration. These ridges do not run in one continuous flow but rather are broken and bifurcated. For instance, a ridge may end suddenly or split into two ridges. The patterns of these ridge formations consist of three basic pattern types; loops, whorls, and arches.

Within the industry there are tenprint examiners and latent examiners. Ten print obviously refers to a full set of prints--all ten fingers. Latent refers to partial prints; less than ten. This also includes part of a palm print or part of a footprint. The latent examiner's expertise necessarily exceeds that for tenprint identification.

In the recent past, AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) has become an important and valuable tool in the field of fingerprint identification. However, AFIS can only extract possible "hits" from the data base. A qualified latent examiner must visually observe and compare the ridge formations in order to confirm or deny actual identity.

Last updated: 7/13/2009 2:54:08 PM