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Mick Killeen, Fingerprint Bureau

The art of catching crooks through their fingerprints has been boosted by ever improving technology - but the expert eye remains crucial in snaring suspects.

The process of identifying someone by their distinctive finger marks is one of West Midlands Police's most long-standing scientific techniques.

The first UK Fingerprint Bureau was founded in Scotland Yard in 1901. And even now, more than 100 years on, the force’s own specialist Fingerprint Bureau still relies on the human eye to provide the final confirmation of who they belong to.

Mick Killeen, Fingerpint BureauMick Killeen manages the bureau which has a team of 19 experts who typically identify up to 250 crooks a month.  

Mick started working for West Midlands Police on a government youth training scheme (YTS) back in 1989. He said: “I originally joined West Midlands Police with a view to becoming a cadet and police officer but part of the YTS programme was for each trainee to spend six month attachments with various departments, one of which was the Fingerprint Bureau.

“It was when I was undertaking my attachment to the Fingerprint Bureau that the opportunity arose for a full time clerical position and my career in forensics began.”

It takes five years to train as a fingerprint expert and they can be called upon to give evidence at court.

Mick, explained: “Even though times have changed the process of identifying someone by their fingerprints is just as important evidentially now as it was decades ago. 

"Advances in technology now means the days of putting fingers in ink and then onto paper are becoming a rarity.

"We now have the capabilities to access fingerprints digitally and these are automatically uploaded onto a National Fingerprint Database.

“This can extract 15 potential matches but even then it still needs the expert interpretation of the human eye – to closer examine the patterns and ridge detail on the skin – to establish whose prints they are.

“It is a fascinating area of work and requires a specialist skill set to be able to analyse such very fine detail.”  

Matching up fingerprintsMick has been part of the Fingerprint Bureau for 25 years and is extremely proud of the cases he has been involved in. In 2007 he was called in to support work on a large scale counter terrorism operation

Mick explains: “For a period of time I worked on the Major Crime Team within the Fingerprint Bureau, and in 2007 we dealt with the first large counter terrorism operation ran by the West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit.

“I was asked to co-ordinate the submissions and work management of this case. In 2007 and 2008 the Fingerprint Bureau received in excess of 100 submissions for this case often with multiple exhibits to be processed in line with the forensic strategy that had been agreed between both teams. 

“This work led to the successful conviction of multiple defendants and I was acknowledged in an awards ceremony for my work by the Counter Terrorism Unit.”

We have launched an interactive experience where you are the Forensic Scene Investigator. You will attend a crime scene, collect fingerprint evidence and will follow the evidence through the testing process through to the fingerprint bureau.

To crack the crime visit West Midlands Police Facebook here.

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