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June 25, 2007
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Miami-Dade fingerprint analyst helps ID criminals and verify identities

By Angela Tablac
The Miami Herald 

MIAMI — Jennifer Hackett is good with other people's hands -- specifically the tips of their fingers.

As a fingerprint analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department, Hackett processes at least 80 prints a day. Thirty-two analysts man the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation -- verifying dead people's identities, comparing sets of prints to identify criminals, processing local prisoners' records and testifying in the courtroom when fingerprints are key in linking a defendant to a crime.

"It doesn't get boring," Hackett said.

Each fingerprint identification case goes through more than one verification. When analysts want to see if a fingerprint matches that of a criminal already in the system, they use a computer program to pull up the top five matches and then try to find five to 10 characteristics that are similar between the two prints. Those characteristics include the grooves, loops and spaces in the patterns. Once the first analyst is done, a second analyst takes a look to verify the match.

Unlike what is portrayed on TV shows such as CSI: Miami and Crossing Jordan, it can take longer than a few seconds to make fingerprint identifications, Hackett said.

The Miami native grew up wanting to be a homicide detective. She graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and then she entered the Miami-Dade police academy. Three weeks later, she decided it wasn't for her.

"I couldn't paint my toenails. I couldn't put make-up on," said Hackett, 25, dressed in a trendy outfit.

She found an online posting for a Miami-Dade fingerprint analyst job and, drawing on a college class on crime scenes, was hired in July 2004.

She took an eight-week training session when she started her analyst job, has since been certified in FBI fingerprint classification (a credibility boost when she goes into court) and attends training sessions each year.

Even though her job keeps her near a computer instead of at a crime scene, she said she still has the instincts and curiosity of a detective.

"Even now, I love it when things get solved," Hackett added. "I wanted to find answers to questions."

Copyright 2007 The Miami Herald

Full story: Miami-Dade fingerprint analyst helps ID criminals and verify identities

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