The process of identifying persons by their fingerprints, either to confirm their identity or their involvement in crime, have never changed. Evidentially, they remain just as important to the police service now, as they did when they were first introduced by the Metropolitan Police over 100 years ago.

Fingerprint Basics

If you look at the surface of your fingers and palms you will see ridges and valleys that twist and turn to form random patterns. These “friction ridges” have evolved on the human hand to help with gripping objects
No two individuals have the same arrangement of ridges (this even applies to identical twins).  Each person’s fingerprints are unique and the ridge formations and patterns remain the same throughout their life. They are formed within the womb, and due to the tough nature of the skin, are one of the longest surviving parts of the body after death.


Fingerprints and palmprints are taken from each individual every time a person is arrested.  The majority of fingerprints are now captured digitally on a Livescan machine, rather than by traditional means of ink and paper. The Livescan process affords forces the quickest and simplest way of establishing a person’s identity whilst they are still in custody.

Crime Scenes

Fingerprint ridge detail is deposited on surfaces everywhere as a result of natural secretion and deposition of sweat through pores on the surface of the skin. These “latent” impressions can be virtually invisible to the naked eye. Fingerprint detail can also be left in contaminants such as paint, oil, blood, grease etc. Police forces, universities and Home Office scientists have developed many different ways of enhancing perpetrator’s fingerprints at crime scenes. Fingerprint officers can then compare crime scene marks against thousands of fingerprint forms held in national collections or named individuals to establish who may have committed the crime.

Other Fingerprint Uses

Whilst fingerprints are primarily used to solve crime, they also assist Coroners in establishing the true identity of cadavers. 

Additionally, fingerprints can also be used by the Disclosure and Barring Service to prove or disprove a person’s previous convictions and for immigration purposes. The Fingerprint Department hold a weekly clinic at the Police Headquarters, by appointment, which provides this service for a fee.

A Career in Fingerprints

Those wishing to have a career in fingerprints must have attained recognised qualifications in Maths, English and Science subject. It is desirable if the applicant is qualified to A-level standard or equivalent. More importantly the applicant must show that they have an eye for detail. This is shown by successfully passing a fingerprint aptitude test. To become fully qualified as a Fingerprint Expert you must complete an ‘apprenticeship’ within a Fingerprint Bureau commencing as a Trainee Fingerprint Officer. This on-the-job training lasts approximately 3 to 5 years and is dependent on the person successfully passing national mandatory courses and completing in-force fingerprint modules.   

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