"People might think we are out at crime scenes all the time getting the fingerprints. We rush back to the office and we've got the offender there. Five seconds later - bang! There's a match."
But that is not exactly how fingerprinting works according to Tasmania Police fingerprint expert Tracey Tobin.
Ms Tobin became the first female fingerprint expert in Tasmania in 2007.
Fingerprinting is a key forensic tool which can be used in a variety of ways including law enforcement and identity verification.
Fingerprints are the impressions left by the friction ridges of a human's finger. They are detailed, last over the life of an individual and are nearly unique to each person.
Ms Tobin, who holds a number of tertiary qualifications in forensic science, has worked in fingerprinting for 19 years.
Every year she has to undertake further testing to keep up her Australasian Forensic Science Assessment Body accreditation.
A civilian, Ms Tobin began her career in Victoria before before making the move to join Tasmania Police's Fingerprint Section in Hobart.
The section services the whole state and houses a mix of police and civilian experts.
There are currently two full-time and two-part time experts, with two police officers in training to become experts.
Unlike in a bigger office, where she would have one set role such as dealing with the fingerprints taken at police stations from offenders, Ms Tobin said her job was different every day.
"Here we tend to do a little bit of everything because we are so small," she said.
The CSI Effect
Ms Tobin said a phenomenon known as the CSI Effect, referring to the popular American crime show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, had left the public with misconceptions about her work as a fingerprint expert.
"Often on those shows you see the computer and they're flipping through the fingerprints and it says 'match, match'," Ms Tobin said.
"That's not really how it works. The computer doesn't do all the work.
"The process on CSI is very condensed. Everything doesn't happen that quickly in real life."
Ms Tobin said her job included a lot more desk work than people might think.
"People think the job is always going out doing exciting things out in the field, but we only go out into the field if there's a murder ... but mainly Crime Scene Officers in Tasmania do that," she said.
"They will take photographs at the scene and then they will submit them via the forensic register computer system.
"We will get [the prints] off there and we'll analyse them and hopefully get some identifications.
"We probably get identifications in maybe a third of cases."
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Her work also involves providing evidence in legal proceedings.
"More things are being put to proof. Fingerprints are being challenged a bit more," Ms Tobin said.
"Now CSI-style programs are out and about, a lot of people think there must be fingerprint evidence or there must be DNA.
"A lot of juries are [questioning], if there is no forensic-type evidence, where is that evidence?"
Ms Tobin said she also does not usually find out the end result of her work.
"We will give the identification to the detective and that's up to them to put a case together or find out more evidence around that person," she said.
"We won't usually find out if they've been charged or if they're going to court until maybe we get a request to do a statutory declaration for court.
"Then even after we give evidence, like in the murder trial I gave evidence in, I don't know the end result [unless] it's reported in the paper what happened."
Whorl, arch or loop?
Ms Tobin said, despite a reliance on a national computer database, the field of fingerprinting would not be doing away with people anytime soon.
Experts use Australia's National Automated Fingerprint Identification System to narrow down potential fingerprint matches.
The NAFIS database houses 10.5 million sets of fingerprints, 116,700 of which belong to Tasmanians.
Some people have multiple sets of fingerprints on the database.
A person's prints may be on NAFIS for a variety of reasons such as a condition of their occupation, for example being a police officer or security guard, or if they have applied for a gaming licence.
People can also volunteer their fingerprints, for example if they have been a victim of crime.
Ms Tobin said fingerprint experts had to follow strict requirements regarding which fingerprints they can keep or add to the database.
"If you've had your car broken into, we might ask you to volunteer your fingerprints so we can eliminate you and those don't go on our database. Then we destroy those fingerprints," Ms Tobin said.
"We can't just get anybody's fingerprints and put them on the database and keep them there for no reason."
Fingerprints collected at crime scenes are uploaded to the database.
"Say somebody is committing a lot of burglaries around the Hobart area and leaving fingerprints everywhere, we'll put them on our database," Ms Tobin said.
"Say that person gets arrested a year later, then those prints will now hit [on the database].
"It's making it harder for criminals to hide."
Ms Tobin said, after she scans a set of prints into NAFIS, the computer would come back with a candidate list of possible matches.
"The computer is not saying it's definitely one person or another. It's basically based on a mathematical formulation so we still have to look at each print individually," she said.
Ms Tobin said when analysing fingerprints experts look for unique parts of the print.
"With the lines on your fingers, there are ridges where one of those ends or it forks off. We're looking for individual features like that," she said.
"And then we go between the fingerprints back and forth, looking for those features that have to be in the same order and the same orientation in the fingerprint.
"We also look for dissimilarity. So even one dissimilarity in a fingerprint will be enough to say it's not that person."
For a print to be considered a match, two experts have to agree.
In Australia there is no longer a fixed standard in terms of what constitutes a match.
"It did vary in the past, maybe 10 or 12 points but that probably doesn't happen that often as you usually get a lot more points than that," Ms Tobin said.
Rise of DNA evidence
Over the course of her almost two decade career in fingerprinting, Ms Tobin said the main technique of using a brush and powder to lift fingerprints had not changed but there had been developments in technology and chemicals.
"If you're out at the crime scene, you're still using the basic brush and powder," she said.
"Some things probably haven't changed in 100 years."
Ms Tobin said DNA evidence was more prevalent than when she started.
"We didn't really have to worry about DNA as much beforehand but they work hand-in-hand - DNA and fingerprints," she said.
"Sometimes [criminals] will leave a fingerprint they won't be able to get DNA off and sometimes they'll leave DNA but not a fingerprint."
DNA profiling in Tasmania is done by a different group of experts at Forensic Science Service Tasmania.
At crime scenes, Ms Tobin said experts would work together to preserve both fingerprint and DNA evidence.
"We'll talk on the phone about what processes will be going first because sometimes our fingerprint chemicals can disrupt DNA [and] they might have to be careful about where they swab or look," Ms Tobin said.
She said fingerprinting was less sensitive and quicker to identify a person than DNA.
"We can get a fingerprint and sit down at the computer, or if we've got a suspect check them off, in say, under 10 minutes," she said.
Ms Tobin said greater access to technology meant Crime Scene Officers located in Launceston, Burnie and Devonport were no longer reliant on 'snail mail' to send fingerprints for examination to the Hobart office.
She said officers could use the digital forensic register to upload pictures of fingerprints from across the state, even directly from the scene of a crime.
"If it's a serious crime or a priority job, we can look at it straight away," she said.
"Even from Launceston or the far reaches of Tasmania we can have an identification for them quite quickly."
The best part of the job for Ms Tobin is providing identifications from fingerprints of a person the police were not aware of.
"And finding fingerprints in difficult locations. If you've got exhibits from crime scenes, we will examine them with different chemicals to find fingerprints on those surfaces," she said.
She said she also enjoyed seeing the system work, with identifications leading to criminals being convicted, and her role in keeping the community safe.