A crime laboratory analyst assists law enforcement agencies in interpreting evidence scientifically. Anything from a hair to a bullet might end up in a crime laboratory, where the analyst will examine it to determine all it reveals about a crime and its perpetrator.
Background Needed to Be a Crime Laboratory Analyst
Working in a crime laboratory requires a solid background in science. At least a bachelor’s degree is needed, with chemistry being the most common major, followed by biology. Because of the varied types of evidence a crime laboratory analyst will often work with, it is helpful to take courses in areas such as genetics, microbiology, zoology, botany, optical mineralogy, entomology, forensics, textiles, pharmacology, and psychology. Some crime laboratories now prefer a graduate degree in one of the sciences.
Following your classroom education, in order to work in most crime laboratories you’ll be expected to get some hands-on training, either through an internship at a lab, or through special training programs.
What Does a Crime Laboratory Analyst Do?
A crime laboratory analyst may spend a small amount of time at crime scenes, but certainly the bulk of the job is in the laboratory. The work is challengingly detailed and precise, requiring strong concentration, analytic abilities, and facility with microscopes, computers and other technology. It can also be fairly repetitive and routine.
There are many very different areas of investigation that require crime laboratory analysts. Most analysts are generalists and work in all of these areas as they happen to be needed in a given case. In a larger crime laboratory there will be more opportunity to specialize and work primarily in one or a small number of areas.
Hair, blood, and other bodily substances can tell a lot about a person, including any diseases the person has, race, and more. DNA analysis has become especially big in recent years, as it has proven hugely valuable not only in tying suspects to a crime, but in exonerating suspects.
By analyzing the chemical composition of blood spatters, paint, glass, soil, etc. in a lab, investigators can infer a surprising amount about the circumstances of a crime.
* Controlled substances and toxicology
Crime laboratory analysts examine blood and other bodily substances to determine the presence and quantity of alcohol, drugs, and poison in the body.
* Ballistics and toolmark identification
Laboratory examination can be used to match a firearm to a projectile, or a projectile to where it struck at the crime scene. Explosives, knives, crowbars, and all other manner of weapons and tools can be examined for evidence, such as whether a given screwdriver was used to jimmy open a certain door.
* Document examination
Crime laboratory analysts study documents to determine their age, analyze the handwriting, and ascertain whether they were forged, as well determining the typewriter, printer, or photocopier used to produce them.
Fingerprint analysis is one of the oldest methods of identification, yet still one of the most effective. Crime laboratory analysts now have access to technology that can compare thousands of fingerprints per second in looking for a match.
Crime laboratory analysts study the measured changes in bodily functions such as pulse, blood pressure, and breathing in order to ascertain when a person may be lying. Polygraphs are of dubious direct value as evidence, however they still hold considerable indirect bluff value in that suspects who believe in them may be more inclined to confess or seek a deal rather than risk lying.
Outside of the lab, crime laboratory analysts may need to testify in court to explain their findings.
Career Prospects for a Crime Laboratory Analyst
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 20% increase in crime laboratory analyst jobs from 2008 to 2018, though reduced governmental budgets are always a concern that could affect that.
Crime laboratory analysts can expect to make $30,000 to $45,000 per year to start, then with experience should be able to make in the range of $40,000 to $55,000, though occasionally the job can pay as much as $70,000 to $80,000.
Hayley Harrison, “Crime Lab Analyst Job Description.” eHow.
Dale Nute, “Advice About a Career in Forensic Science.” The Florida State University College of Criminology & Criminal Justice.
“Crime Laboratory Analyst.” Criminal Justice Profiles.
“So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist!” American Academy of Forensic Scientists.