The Los Angeles Times reports that fingerprint analysis — long a troubled part of the LAPD operation — has such a large backlog that work on property crimes will now be rationed.

In “LAPD to Ration Fingerprint Analysis to Deal With Backlog,” we learn that the fingerprint operation is so overwhelmed with requests to collect and analyze prints that each of the LAPD’s 21 stations and divisions will get to make only ten requests per month for priority analysis in property cases.  Others will be put on a waiting list.  Violent crimes, like homicides and sexual assaults, will not be affected by the rationing plan, but LAPD officials conceded that even for violent crimes, “it typically takes six to eight weeks to produce fingerprint results.”  And this is a very serious problem.  According to Michael Brausam, a detective in the LAPD’s Central Division:

The longer you leave these criminals out on the street, they’re likely going to be committing more crimes. And, if you do get a match on prints months later, it can be much harder to prove your case.

I discuss fingerprint analysis extensively in Failed Evidence.  It used to be thought of as the gold standard of forensics, before DNA came along to reveal the flaws in its methods.  Then came the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” which showed that fingerprint analysis was not the science we had thought it was.

And now: rationing.  The situation in LA calls to mind an old Catskills joke.  Two ladies sit in the resort’s dining area.  One complains to the other: “The food is terrible in this place!”  The other replies, “Yes — and they serve such small portions.”  It looks like tightening municipal budgets have pushed us to the “small portions” phase.  So even if fingerprint analysis improves — and there are signs that it may , which I will discuss in a subsequent post — we won’t have enough of it to go around.


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