Using science to fight crime: inside PA’s forensic lab

Sample prints in the lab. These ones aren't of real criminals.

Growing up, Prince Albert police constable Linda Lair wasn’t a nerd. But she turned into one eight and a half years ago.

“I had about six months with the service, and I went to a break and enter scene with an identification member,” she said. “He was looking for fingerprints and I thought: this is the coolest thing ever. I want to do that.”

Now she spends her days brushing for prints, photographing crime scenes and doing “a lot more paperwork than people would realize.” She’s one of three officers who work in the Prince Albert Police Service’s forensic identification lab.

Lair said it’s nothing like CSI, a show she quit watching after one episode. There aren’t any instantaneous results – just persistence and hard work.

“If we develop fingerprints, that is much more time consuming than in CSI shows,” she said. “You can’t just develop a fingerprint and compare it to Joe Bad Guy and say, ‘yeah that’s him.’ It’s a much, much longer process.”

Lair can spend hours working her way around a crime scene, photographing every possible piece of evidence and taking copious notes. When she finds something a suspect might have touched, it goes back to the lab.

There’s different ways to take prints: sometimes she uses powder, sometimes she looks for impressions in light, sometimes she lifts the print off with a special kind of tape. Once that’s done, she snaps a photo and passes it through Photoshop to pump up the contrast.
Apart from that, there’s no fancy machine – just Lair’s specially trained eyes.

“That’s the only computer process we use,” she said. “Other than that, it’s taking the fingerprint and comparing it visually, sometimes with a magnifying glass.”

For more on this story, see the March 3 print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.