The Fingerprinting Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2020


Fingerprinting is one of the most commonly earned merit badges, and for good reason. With the right supplies, this five-requirement badge can be completed in less than an hour. For this badge, you’ll need to get yourself a fingerprinting identification card which I cover in requirement 4. Ask your parents to place the order for you on Amazon and you’re all set. Don’t worry, the cards are cheap.

In completing this merit badge, you’ll learn about the history of fingerprinting, how fingerprints are used for security purposes, the science behind your own fingerprints, and the different categories of fingerprints that exist. You’ll also learn how to take your own fingerprints and record these results on a fingerprinting card. After all that, you’re done!

In case you’re only doing this for the badge, I still think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how interesting fingerprinting is. In this quick article, I’ll break down the requirements and answers you need to know to earn the fingerprinting merit badge. Plus, I’ll give you some great insider tips on how to be a leader that new scouts love — just by using this badge. Stay tuned!

Are you ready? Let’s get fingerprinting!

The Fingerprinting Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Give a short history of fingerprinting. Tell the difference between civil and criminal identification.
  2. Explain the difference between the automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) now used by some law enforcement agencies and the biometric fingerprint systems used to control access to places like buildings, airports, and computer rooms.
  3. Do the following:
    a. Name the surfaces of the body where friction or papillary ridges are found.
    b. Name the two basic principles supporting the science of fingerprints and give a brief explanation of each principle.
    c. Explain what it takes to positively identify a person using fingerprints.
  4. Take a clear set of prints using ONE of the following methods:
    a. Make both rolled and plain impressions. Make these on an 8-by-8-inch fingerprint identification card available from your local police department or counselor.
    b. Using clear adhesive tape, a pencil, and plain paper, record your own fingerprints or those of another person.
  5. Show your merit badge counselor you can identify the three basic types of fingerprint patterns and their subcategories. Using your own hand, identify the types of patterns you see

1) Give a short history of fingerprinting. Tell the difference between civil and criminal identification.

Fingerprinting only began to be used as a method of identifying criminals in the 19th century. However, even thousands of years ago, during the time of the Babylonians, fingerprints had been used as a form of verification. This is because fingerprints remain unchanged throughout a person’s life, with the odds of two humans having identical fingerprints being incredibly low: around 1 in 100,000,000.

The first recorded case of fingerprints being used to reduce fraud was recorded in India in the year 1858 when an Englishman named Sir William Herschel was working as a chief magistrate and required residents to record their fingerprints when signing business documents. In 1901, 43 years later, Sir Edward Henry developed the first system of classifying recorded fingerprints.

In America during 1903, the Will West-William West doppelganger case revealed the need for a more nuanced way to identify individuals.  Later during 1905, the US military and police force adopted the use of fingerprints, and in 1908 the first official fingerprint card was developed. On December 21, 1911, fingerprints finally became accepted by US courts as a reliable means of identification.

Today, the use of fingerprinting is widespread and falls under two domains of identification: civil and criminal.

  • Civil fingerprint identification: For people entering into a public service such as the police force or military. These sets of fingerprints are taken to determine whether the individual has any prior arrest records, as well as to verify their identity at a later date.
  • Criminal fingerprint identification: Used in creating a permanent file recording the conviction information of the arrested person. As some criminals go by false aliases, fingerprinting can reveal their true identity and prior arrest record.

The FBI currently operates the world’s largest fingerprint repository with more than 40 million unique sets of prints. By creating a reliable method of identification, fingerprinting stops innocent people from ending up in prison and allows more criminals to be identified.

For an extra briefer on the history of fingerprinting, check out this quick (6:15) video:


2) Explain the difference between the automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) now used by some law enforcement agencies and the biometric fingerprint systems used to control access to places like buildings, airports, and computer rooms.

Automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) are used by police as a means of positively identifying a single person’s fingerprints out of the 40 million prints on record. AFIS compares the set of prints to every other set within the database to locate a match.

Biometrics are often used as keys to grant access. Security personnel must sometimes scan their fingerprints in order to enter limited-access locations. Nowadays, even some laptops have biometric fingerprint scanners to log in. These systems do not typically involve positive identification, and instead look for similarity between the scanned print and what is considered ‘OK’ by the system.

An AFIS must be much more sophisticated than a biometric system to search through the immense amount of data in the repository. A biometric scan essentially asks only whether the fingerprint in the system and the fingerprint being scanned are the same. This is why an AFIS search can take hours to complete, whereas a biometric scan usually only takes seconds.


3) Do the following:

a. Name the surfaces of the body where friction or papillary ridges are found.

Papillary ridges are the top layers of your skin on the palms of your hands and bottoms of your feet. There are tiny furrows between these ridges which provide you with the friction to grip things and which form your fingerprints. The papillary ridges which can be found on your palms, fingers, soles, and toes are all unique.

b. Name the two basic principles supporting the science of fingerprints and give a brief explanation of each principle.

  • Individuality: Even identical twins have different fingerprints. Because the odds of any two people having the exact same fingerprints are so low, fingerprints are a great way to provide unique identification.
  • Permanence: Your fingerprints will never change. The papillary ridges that you are born with will grow but never differ in shape for the entirety of your life.

c. Explain what it takes to positively identify a person using fingerprints.

There are experts who are trained to positively identify whether a person’s set of fingerprints match the prints which are on file. This task is more difficult than it sounds, as the skin on the fingers and palms tends to be very flexible. The flexibility of one’s skin causes even two fingerprints taken from the same person, one after the other, to be different. However, these experts are trained to understand the causes of variation in order to determine whether the fingerprints are from the same person.

To positively identify a person using fingerprints, ridge shapes are used as matching points between the prints on file and those of the suspect. An expert can explain the reasons for every one of the differences in the matching process. If there is even one unexplainable difference, an expert would conclude that the fingerprints were not from the same person.


4) Take a clear set of prints using ONE of the following methods:

a. Make both rolled and plain impressions. Make these on an 8-by-8-inch fingerprint identification card available from your local police department or counselor.
b. Using clear adhesive tape, a pencil, and plain paper, record your own fingerprints or those of another person.

For this requirement, you’ll need to purchase a fingerprint card or get one from your merit badge counselor/local police station. I recommend you buy a larger pack on Amazon so that you can teach this badge to the younger scouts once you’ve finished. Here is a link to 25 fingerprinting cards for under $10. You’re welcome!

SmartScout Protip: A great way to earn respect as a leader is to help younger scouts to earn their first merit badges. By buying the larger pack of fingerprinting cards ($3 more) you’ll be able to help a good portion of your troop earn this badge and become a better leader along the way!

Watch this short clip on how to take your own fingerprints. Once finished, you’re ready to do it yourself on your own fingerprint identification card.


5) Show your merit badge counselor you can identify the three basic types of fingerprint patterns and their subcategories. Using your own hand, identify the types of patterns you see

There are three types of fingerprints: loops, whorls, and arches. A simple way to differentiate between these is that arches have no triangles, loops have one triangle and whorls have two triangles. Now take a look at the picture down below and see if you can tell the difference.

Fingerprint classes: Top row: arch, left loop, and right loop. Bottom... | Download Scientific ...

Arches, loops, and whorls have their own subcategories which are outlined below:

Forensics: Types of Fingerprints
Loops: Ulnar Loop, Radial Loop
Arches: Plain Arch, Tented Arch
Whorls: Accidental Whorl, Central Pocket Loop, Double Loop Whorl, Plain Whorl

Examining the prints that you made during requirement four, use these categories to identify your own fingerprint types. Once you’ve got your prints identified, you’re done! You’ve just completed the fingerprinting merit badge.


Conclusion

Fingerprinting is one of the easiest merit badges you can earn. However, that does not make the field of fingerprinting any less interesting. Especially these days, it is important to understand how biometrics are being used to secure your identity, and what role fingerprints have to play in all of that.

Now you’re done! In 5 easy requirements, you’ve learned the history of fingerprinting, how fingerprints are used in everyday life today, what makes a fingerprint, the types of fingerprints, and have even taken a set of your own prints! I hope you found my guide useful and informative and encourage you to share it with your fellow scouts.

Again, I would also recommend you use this badge as an opportunity to teach younger scouts and improve your leadership abilities. Personally, when I was in a younger scout this was one of my first merit badges, and being instructed by older scouts allowed me to begin looking up to them as mentors. Consider this activity for your next troop meeting and then take initiative!

If you enjoyed learning about the fingerprinting merit badge, you’ll love these other two merit badges that I’ve outlined in my article, the three easiest merit badges to earn today. Bookmark us and keep checking in with the ScoutSmarts website because I’m creating new articles, tips, and guides for you every week! Until next time, best of luck in your Scouting journey!


Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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