Government Job Profile: Crime Scene Investigator
Your mobile phone rings vibrating your nightstand and interrupting a dream you can no longer remember. As you reach for the phone, your alarm clock tells you it is 3:15 in the morning. You’re the on-call crime scene investigator (CSI) this weekend, so you’re not surprised. By 3:42 you’re in your car on the way to the scene of your city’s most recent homicide.
Crime scene investigators are specialized law enforcement personnel who collect and analyze evidence taken from crime scenes. They can look at tire tracks, footprints, blood splatters, and many other elements of a crime scene to piece together theories about what occurred there, the sequence of those events, and how long ago they transpired.
Law enforcement agencies often lump together all sorts of personnel under the title of crime scene investigator, but for the purposes of this article, a crime scene investigator is a sworn peace officer with expertise in collecting and analyzing evidence gathered from crime scenes. An evidence technician is someone who gathers and processes crime scene evidence but is not necessarily a peace officer and is not involved in other aspects of investigating crimes.
Forensic science dramas on television have increased the popularity of crime scene investigation as a career. Those shows may also have affected the public’s expectations of what crime scene investigators can bring to criminal prosecution. Many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors believe that such television programs have made jurors less likely to convict criminals when the prosecution does not present significant amounts of high-quality forensic evidence. Academic research has yet to prove the so-called CSI effect.
Jobs are found in large police departments and state police organizations. Smaller departments do not have the manpower to devote a position solely to crime scene investigation.
The Education You'll Need
Crime scene investigator positions are not entry-level jobs. They require intuition and judgment that a person can only gain through experience investigating crimes.
Since crime scene investigators are sworn police officers, those wishing to become crime scene investigators should research the requirements for becoming a police officer in local and surrounding jurisdictions, as these requirements may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Education requirements range from some college with specific hours of coursework required for a bachelor’s degree. Coursework in law enforcement and forensic science can provide candidates an advantage over other applicants.
The Experience You Need
Law enforcement experience is required to become a crime scene investigator. Additionally, people wishing to become crime scene investigators should have training in the collection and processing of forensic evidence. Those already in crime scene investigator positions receive significant amounts of continuing education to keep up with advances in technology and professional practice.
What You'll Do
Crime scene investigators assist detectives in solving crimes by collecting evidence and providing expert analysis of that evidence. They are often called as witnesses in criminal cases to explain their theories about what happened at a crime scene.
In a case, the crime scene investigator is called to the crime scene once law enforcement has already discovered or been called to the scene. The investigator assists in blocking off the scene from outside contamination, which could include helping uniformed officers set up barricades and caution tape and protecting evidence from damaging weather such as rain, sleet, hail, wind, sun, and snow.
The crime scene investigator identifies, collects, and inventories evidence at the crime scene. The investigator takes photographs of the scene and of individual pieces of evidence, while also ensuring that the methods used to collect and process the evidence will stand up to scrutiny by defense attorneys. A judge can disallow improperly processed evidence.
This work requires bending, stooping, reaching, lifting, and other physical activity that can be strenuous for some people. Those with physical disabilities may not be able to perform this work. The job also includes working in all types of weather.
The investigator works with outside crime labs to analyze evidence that is outside the department’s capability to analyze. For example, a large police department might send bullet fragments to a state ballistics lab if the department does not have a ballistics expert on staff.
The job is not for those with a weak stomach. Crime scene investigators are called out to the most gruesome events. Their tasks may include taking photos of murder victims, collecting samples of bodily fluids and analyzing blood spatters on a wall.
What You'll Earn
Because the term crime scene investigator is often applied to an evidence technician position, it is difficult to determine a salary range for those who truly fit that job title. To estimate what a crime scene investigator makes in your area, look at local police salaries. Because of the experience and expertise required of the job, it is safe to assume that crime scene investigator salaries are on the higher side of the salary range for front-line officers. If you can find detectives' salaries, those will probably be an even more accurate estimate.