With the popularity of TV shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: NY, and CSI: Miami, it’s no wonder that many people have become interested in forensic careers such as that of crime scene investigator. It’s not the best paying job out there, but it’s one of the more challenging and interesting jobs one could want (albeit not to the extent it might appear on television).
Background Needed to Be a Crime Scene Investigator
Generally crime scene investigators-or crime scene examiners-are police officers. So part of the necessary background is to become a police officer and work your way up, since crime scene investigator is rarely an officer’s starting position.
As far as educational background, while it’s not unheard of for a crime scene investigator to have only a high school education, you will almost certainly need at least an associate’s degree, and more likely a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree will give you a further competitive advantage when trying to find work in this field.
Most crime scene investigators major in one of the natural sciences with an emphasis on criminal justice, or major in criminal justice while studying plenty of science.
Good written and oral communication skills are key, since a crime scene investigator will routinely be making written reports, and may be called upon to testify in court. It is important to have photography and other skills related to documenting and gathering evidence.
It is also imperative to be in good physical condition. The job requires plenty of climbing, kneeling, and crouching, and carrying heavy objects.
What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?
Basically a crime scene investigator gathers and protects the evidence from a crime scene. This may involve taking photographs, obtaining fingerprints, making footprint casts, and gathering trace evidence such as bits of paint or threads from fabrics. It may involve gathering biological evidence, such as blood, hair, semen, and nail scrapings, as well as ballistics evidence such as bullets, shell casings, and gun powder patterns.
All this evidence must be gathered in a way that keeps it intact, and that follows the legal rules to the letter so that it will later be admissible in court.
A crime scene investigator will normally work a 9 to 5 type shift, and then be on call a certain number of hours a week beyond that, since crimes can happen any time.
The job requires a willingness to deal regularly with dead bodies and gruesome, messy crimes.
A common part of the job is to testify in court about the crime scene, and what one observed and did there.
Career Prospects for a Crime Scene Investigator
Typical pay for a crime scene investigator is about $40,000 a year, but this can vary considerably based on factors including location, years of experience, and education. Job satisfaction tends to be high. Police officers are more likely to try to transfer to a crime scene investigator job than away from one, so if you are to get the job at all there may be a considerable wait. So it’s important that one like police work in general, as that’s where one will likely spend a good portion of one’s career.
Dale Nute, “Advice About a Career in Forensic Science.” The Florida State University College of Criminology & Criminal Justice.
“Crime Scene Investigator.” CrimeSceneInvestigator.com
“So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist!” American Academy of Forensic Scientists.
“What is a Crime Scene Examiner?” Wise Geek.