There are no flat-panel plasma screens and detectives with crisp lab coats working for the Liberty Lake Police Department.
The seven officers patrolling this affluent, 5,000-resident city don’t have a gleaming crime lab or experts that can identify a fingerprint in a few seconds.
Actually, they had to wait 10 months. But their patience and persistence paid off.
Last May, Officer Erin Lance took a fingerprint from the driver’s door of an Acura as the city was experiencing a rash of car break-ins and thefts.
The results came back from the state crime lab a few weeks ago, and to Liberty Lake Chief Brian Asmus’ surprise, they were identified as those of Robert Lee Hahn, 25, a transient with a history of property crimes.
“It’s very rare that you get a positive ID from a latent fingerprint,” said Asmus, who has only seen a print match once in his 15 years of police work. “It’s not like CSI. Things don’t usually happen that fast.”
Liberty Lake police have a warrant out for Hahn’s arrest on multiple charges of trafficking and possessing stolen goods, as well as burglary, Asmus said.
Police checked pawnshop records compiled by Sheriff’s Community Outreach Policing Effort (SCOPE) volunteers and found pages of items for which Hahn received cash – jewelry, power tools, iPods and more, Asmus said. Some of the items with serial numbers have already been reunited with their owners.
Those pawn records have been shared with other police agencies, and now Coeur d’Alene police have a charge pending against Hahn, and Post Falls police are interested in the man also, Asmus said.
“We believe he is responsible for a large number of our vehicle prowls,” Asmus said. “He operates the same way in most of the crimes.”
Most of Liberty Lake’s theft problems have come from car break-ins or people who leave garage doors open, Asmus said.
When fingerprints are sent to the state crime lab, they’re assigned a priority based on the crime they’re involved in. Murders and rapes receive more attention than vehicle break-ins, Asmus said.
Even when investigators get to the print, it’s rare to have a good sample, he said.
“Usually they come back too smudged or smeared,” Asmus said. “This one was right on.”
It’s not that common to take fingerprints in smaller crimes, especially in bigger cities where resources are strapped, said Cpl. Tom Lee, a spokesman for Spokane police. In Spokane, it’s hard to tell how often prints are taken, he said.
“It depends on the call load and the availability of people with fingerprint equipment,” Lee said. Cars are particularly difficult to check for fingerprints because they have few printable surfaces, he said.
Liberty Lake police are now working with pawnshops to spot Hahn if he returns, Asmus said, and officers will watch for him on the streets of Liberty Lake.
Anyone with information about Hahn can call the on-duty officer at the Liberty Lake Police Department at 218-4899.