LONDON, OH (WOWK) When it comes to solving a crime, law enforcement agencies rely, in part, on clues from the scene to crack the case. At Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation lab, forensic scientists in different divisions study that evidence to uncover the clues. 

“We will mark a couple of different things. Most importantly the core, the rotation and any ridge endings,” said Ashley Owen, Forensic Scientist at BCI, describing the elements of a fingerprint on her computer screen. 

Owen works with what are called latent prints. Those unique prints can be found on a person’s fingers, palms and even the bottom of their feet. “These prints can be left in your natural oil or sweat or anything that happens to be on your hands at the point of contact like dirt, blood, oil, grease,” Owen said. 

She looks at the print to find characteristics like loops, whirls and arches. She said loops are the most common and arches are the least common. 

Owen said she never knows what she’ll be taking the prints from. She sees everything from full-sized windows to drug packaging. How she processes a print depends largely on the type of surface it is found on. When it comes to glass surfaces they commonly use dust. But there have other techniques as well. “We also utilize a lot of chemical processing. We use a lot of fluorescent dye stains which are good for plastic and papers will also use a chemical agent.” 

Analyzing the prints is only one aspect of the job. Scientists like Owen also use biometric databases like Ohio’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System or AFIS as well as the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system or NGI. 

“You will mark off a print, send it off to search and it will provide you, we have it set at 20 candidates and you go through that candidate list until you have a candidate to compare or the list is exhausted,” Owen said. 

She said it isn’t like your favorite television shows where a match is made and the person’s picture and address pop up on the screen.  

“AFIS does not make identifications, only a human can do that and only a human can testify in court,” Owen said. 

To find out more about the lab and the work they do, click here.