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LAPD Doesn't Have The Resources To Dust For Fingerprints At Most Burglaries

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Adding to the fingerprint database. (Photo by George Frey / Getty Images)
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This year has seen a string of high-profile celebrity burglaries, from incidents involving Alanis Morissette to Kendall Jenner, and they all have one thing in common: the LAPD actually dusts the homes for fingerprints after the crime. The department has limited resources for collecting fingerprint data—which can be the most crucial piece of evidence in a burglary—so high-value thefts often get the priority.

The L.A. Times reports the LAPD analyzes fingerprint data at 35% of crime scenes when an investigator visits, compared to 55% at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The LAPD cleared 11.5% of burglaries between 2010 and 2016, compared to the statewide average of 12.4%. The Sheriff's department cleared 15.4% in the same time frame. A burglary is cleared "when police arrest or charge a suspect," "if the suspect dies or cannot be extradited, or if a victim refuses to cooperate."

In 2014, the department's fingerprint backlog exceeded 5,400 cases. At the time, Chief Beck attributed the backlog to a shortage of staff within the LAPD's Latent Print Unit. The department prioritized violent crimes, while property crimes took a backseat. "We can't get to every property crime. We just can't," LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese told the Times in 2014. These shortages remain a problem despite attempts to hire and train more staffers, so the department is "limited to sending only 10 fingerprint evidence kits to the crime lab every month for property offenses."

Property crimes are prioritized when the LAPD believes they are a part of serial burglaries or are perpetrated by a crime ring, which puts celebrity burglaries at the top of the priority list. The theft of jewelry or artwork, or the presence of a security camera at the crime scene (visible theft equals higher likelihood of an arrest), also makes it more likely for the LAPD to fully investigate. This leaves lower-income families and lower-valuation burglaries neglected. Peter Bibring of ACLU SoCal told the Times that prioritizing high-value thefts "raises concerns that wealthier residents will get better treatment from police."