When you think of a fingerprint expert the first image your mind conjures up is probably from the iconic TV series CSI or one from the thousands of true crime docos that saturate Netflix’s viewing catalogues.
But art doesn’t always imitate life and the role of a fingerprint expert is far more sophisticated than TV shows will have you believe.
Sergeant Alicia Finigan is a fingerprint expert for the Gold Coast District. Her role involves both processing ‘arrest’ fingerprints and responsibility for the identification of offender’s ‘latent’ fingerprints found at crime scenes.
Her path to this important scientific role within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) began in 2006 when Sergeant Finigan was sworn in as a Constable at the age of 31.
Working as a general duties officer at Surfers Paradise for the first three years of her career, Sergeant Finigan became interested in the scenes of crime aspect of policing.
Scenes of Crime officers are responsible for providing the first forensic response to crime scenes.
In 2009, Sergeant Finigan was accepted into a Scenes of Crime course and undertook four months of intensive training that involved both theory and practical work.
After the completion of the course Sergeant Finigan was awarded a Diploma of Forensic Investigation and commenced duties as a Scenes of Crime officer.
It was early on during this stage of her career that Sergeant Finigan identified she had a strong interest in the science behind fingerprint collection.
“While attending these crime scenes, working in conjunction with other specialised areas such as ballistics and Scientifics, I became really interested in fingerprints,” Sergeant Finigan said.
“I put in an application when I saw that they were asking for applicants and that took about eight or nine months before I was shortlisted.”
Fingerprint experts hold a nationally recognised certificate of expertise in the science of fingerprints. This involves both assessment by the Australasian Forensic Field Sciences Accreditation Board and successful completion of a five-stage training program.
“I undertook four years of intense course and on the job training as well as knowledge based training and attending major scenes,” Sergeant Finigan said.
Upon completion of her studies, Sergeant Finigan drew upon her knowledge base to apply the skills she had attained directly into police investigations.
“In the lab you do things such as chemical enhancements and applying different chemicals to different surfaces,” Sergeant Finigan said.
Sergeant Finigan uses several varying methods to identify and collect evidence gathered from crime scenes. These include using powders, super glue chambers and other physical enhancements that enhance certain materials and provide vital clues to investigators.
“All of this is part of my knowledge base so we are taught that information and how different chemicals react to different excretions from our bodies.”
In addition to the scientific elements of her role, Sergeant Finigan is trained to be able to explain the findings she makes when analysing fingerprints so that evidence collected can be understood during court proceedings.
“We are trained in court processes and how to give evidence as an expert.”
Working in such a unique and forensic section of the QPS means Sergeant Finigan is constantly asked by others how they can follow in her footsteps.
“I get asked all the time from people, ‘how can I become a police officer?’ and I usually say speak to a police officer about their experience,” Sergeant Finigan said.
“Ask what is required, what knowledge and fitness base is needed and see whether it’s something that you want to do and are capable of doing.
“Once you become a police officer it doesn’t just stop there.”
This is Alicia’s story. What’s yours?
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