Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigator Jobs

Job Duties, Salary Potential and Education

Close up of forensic scientist taking sample at crime scene
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Police detectives and criminal investigators work hard to solve crimes and see that justice is served, but they can't do it on their own. There are many factors that go into building a successful criminal case. One of the most important factors is the evidence collected by crime scene investigators.

Though the job of a forensic science technician isn't exactly like what you see on TV, it is very much a vital and interesting criminology career. Crime scene investigators ensure vital evidence is located, properly handled and analyzed in order to identify and find criminals and assist in their successful prosecution.

What Do Crime Scene Investigators Do and Where Do They Work?

Crime scene investigators, also called forensic technicians or crime scene technicians (but not to be confused with forensic scientists), work in a number of different environments. They respond to crime scenes along with police officers and investigators in order to find and gather evidence to bolster an investigation.

Crime scene technicians often collect evidence directly from the scene and ensure it is handled properly. Evidence handling procedures are vital in that they ensure the evidence is preserved correctly and that it is not tampered with prior to, during or after analysis.

For example, fibrous material containing blood evidence must be collected in a paper bag as opposed to plastic in order for it to dry safely without encouraging mold and must be kept in refrigerated dry storage. Failure to handle evidence correctly can result in a guilty criminal going free.

The bulk of the work of a forensic science investigator is done indoors, where analysis occurs. The work hours are generally Monday through Friday, though crime scene investigators are subject to call out at any time to collect evidence.  Long days and late callouts are not uncommon. Crime scene investigators may specialize in a number of areas within the forensic science discipline, including:

The Education And Skill Requirements for Crime Scene Investigator

Generally, a bachelor's degree in Forensic Science or another natural science is required to get a job as a crime scene investigator. However, it may be possible to get your foot in the door with a certificate from a vocational or technical school.

You may also be able to gain entry-level employment as a lab technician, working under the direct supervision of a scientist. If you are able to demonstrate proficiency as a lab tech, you may be able to work your way up to a crime scene investigator or even a forensic scientist.

In addition to a degree, crime scene investigators need to have strong written and oral communication skills. Crime scene technicians work closely with detectives and investigators and must be able to communicate their findings and their expert opinions clearly and articulately.

Often, crime scene investigators must make reports that will be used in court proceedings. This means verbal communication is of vital importance. Forensic science technicians must also have excellent computer skills and need to be technologically inclined as they routinely deal with sensitive electronic lab equipment.

How Much Money Crime Scene Investigators Earn

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for crime scene investigators was $55,040 annually, or $23.97 per hour, in 2008. Salaries ranged between $32,000 and $83,000 across the U.S. for the same year.

The Chances of Getting a Job as a Crime Scene Investigator

The Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2010-2011 states that there were approximately 12,800 forensic science technicians employed in the United States in 2008. Employment of crime scene technicians is expected to grow in number by 20% by 2018, due largely in part to the fact that more and more law enforcement agencies are utilizing technology and DNA analysis to solve crimes. This expected growth rate is much higher than the Bureau of Labor and Statistics' average project rate of 12% for all jobs.

Crime Scene Investigator or Forensic Scientist Career

If you are scientifically inclined and have a keen understanding of the scientific method, you will likely easily grasp the importance of proper evidence collection and handling. Work as a crime scene investigator can be grueling and gruesome, as you will often be working with scenes an evidence from violent crimes.

A strong stomach is a must. However, if you are excited by the notion that your work and attention to detail can help serve justice and solve crimes, and you have a strong desire to help others, a career as a crime scene investigator may be exactly for you.