The science of using fingerprint evidence in police investigations is older than Sherlock Holmes. But police have long had a problem matching a fingerprint collected as evidence to an unknown offender. 

The Forest Park Police Department is getting some help from the FBI in fingerprint identification, said a report submitted to the Forest Park Village Council Monday.

The pilot program links local police departments to the federal Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a national database of fingerprints and criminal histories. 

Law enforcement officials have long complained that the Illinois State Police take months and even years to process requests for fingerprint identification.

In Forest Park, this lag time caused a three-year delay in the arrest of a man who was eventually convicted of a violent crime that took place locally in 2008.

The female owner of Baubo’s Garden, a now closed lingerie shop at 7234 Madison St., was tied up with several pairs of underwear while she was alone in her store in the afternoon by an unknown man. The man threatened to shoot and stab her. He robbed her of the money in the cash register and stole her jewelry. 

Police recovered latent fingerprint and DNA evidence in August, 2008 and sent it to the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory. They did not get results until May 1, 2011, when state police identified 43-year-old convicted sex offender Edmond Tate, then living in Lafayette, Ind. Tate turned himself in to Country Club Hills police in 2011. 

Tate was finally tried in December, 2013 and two weeks ago Judge Gregory Ginex sentenced Tate to 28 years in prison.

Police at the time of Tate’s arrest blamed a backlog of fingerprint work at the state police lab for the delay.

With the new FBI system, things are much faster.

“What used to take years, now literally takes minutes,” said the report.

According to the report, a latent fingerprint collected by an evidence technician is captured digitally and then enhanced on the computer with Adobe Photoshop. The print is emailed to the FBI using a secure encryption system. 

“Within minutes a list of candidates is automatically generated from the IAFIS system,” the report says.

Private contractors who have been trained as certified fingerprint examiners match the print, if possible, with a candidate. Locally, the prints are matched by Chuck Schauer, a former DEA officer and retired River Forest Police sergeant.

“This program is one of the few of its kind in the United States,” the report said. Forest Park participates, along with 13 other suburbs in the West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement (WEDGE). 

Forest Park police said fingerprint matching through IAFIS helped solve five cases in Forest Park in 2013. 

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...