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L.A. Seeks Staff to Step Up Analysis of Prints

The Police Commission is eager to tackle cold case files by taking advantage of the FBI's national fingerprint database.

March 26, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police officials moved to cut the number of unprocessed fingerprints from unsolved homicides by voting Tuesday to recommend that the city fund a dozen print technician jobs and deploy six detectives to eliminate the 6,000-case backlog in the next six months.

The Board of Police Commissioners acted after learning that a sample of 52 prints produced matches with an FBI national print computer database in 19% of unsolved murder cases.

"The work it generates could potentially be huge," said LAPD Robbery-Homicide Det. Dave Lambkin.

The action follows by one day the sentence of a South Carolina businessman in the 46-year-old killings of two El Segundo police officers, who was caught after Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies ran an old fingerprint through a federal fingerprint database.

The federal database, containing 44 million fingerprints, was developed in 1999 by the FBI, allowing local law enforcement agencies to locate matching prints in just two hours.

The LAPD started a unit dedicated to investigating so-called cold cases more than a year ago, but efforts have been hampered by funding and staffing limitations in the department's Scientific Investigation Division, which is struggling just to keep up with new cases.

Besides the fingerprints from more than 6,000 cases between 1931 and 1985 that have not been submitted for state or federal comparison, LAPD officials say there are 4,000 cases with fingerprints dating to 1985 that need to be examined for input into state and federal print databases.

With current technology, each fingerprint takes from one to four hours to digitally code, LAPD detectives told the commission. That job is compounded because many crime scenes produce multiple prints.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, who has also called for a report on the backlog and ways to fix it, applauded the commission recommendations as an important step.

"This is a very important issue," Weiss said. "It's good to have the Police Commission support for an immediate resolution to this."

LAPD officials said that they have authorization for 32 employees to enter prints into databases, but that they have 12 vacancies. The LAPD also recommended that six additional detectives be funded for the cold-case homicide unit.

Chief William J. Bratton said dealing with the backlog will be a critical function for the department's new detective bureau and the new joint LAPD-Los Angeles County Sheriff's crime lab.

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