Perhaps you have been enthralled by crime scene serials on television and have wondered what it would take to land a job like that. Crime Scene Investigation programs might be the ticket for you if you have an interest in criminal justice and science. Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs) are also referred to as forensic investigators and they are extremely important for providing support in terms of information to law enforcement departments by collecting and documenting materials from crime scenes and they often perform various scientific tests to help investigators better understand the a nature and course of events of a crime.
Crime Scene Investigators take on a number of roles including but not limited to photographing and drawing crime scenes, with proper schooling can run DNA tests on evidence they have collected, take fingerprints, footprints and tire impressions etc., document detailed reports about a crime scene and evidence they procure as well as be an expert witness for providing scientific testimony in court.
There are many categories for crime scene investigation positions and all require somewhat different educational background and you can go to just about any level you want starting with an associates degree or certificate all the way to PhD or MD degree. The sky’s the limit! This field of science and law has much to offer. Consider that you can specialize in handwriting analysis or ballistics analysis and both are fascinating areas. Consider being able to determine the mental state of a perpetrator by studying the perpetrator’s handwriting and what about determining where a bullet came from by learning the ballistics of various projectiles. The things you can do in this area go on and on. However, keep in mind the crime scene investigator positions require individuals who pay close attention to detail and follow very strict protocols because any deviation from the rules can compromise the entire investigation. Nevertheless, you generally get to work with a number of experts that include attorneys, medical doctors and pathologists. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator?
You need to consider two options in terms of getting into a Crime Scene Program. Do you want to go through a civilian training program or through a police program. You see, many crime scene investigators become sworn police officers at some later time. The way to do this is to go into a police academy and begin that pathway. Once you have experience with crime scenes as a police officer, your department may decide to hire you as a crime scene investigator. They will then provide the necessary scientific training for your new position.
Nevertheless, if you are interested in taking the college route, you have several ways you can go. What degree you need depends on your local region and the size of the police agency. You see, this varies around the country so you need to have some idea where you would like to live. Obviously, crime rates and types of crimes vary by city and state. Think about Miami or New York City versus Topeka, Kansas. I think you get the idea. Generally speaking no matter where you are taking your coursework, you need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in forensic science or criminal justice and of course this is minimal. The nice thing is that there are many schools that offer these programs including junior colleges, technical schools and four-year universities. Make sure the college you choose is properly accredited making it a high quality institution. If you decide to go for a two year program, remember you can always come back later and pick up where you left off.
If you’re thinking about a career change and you already have a bachelor’s degree, you might want to consider going to the master’s level in forensics science or criminal justice. Many of these programs are provided online by high quality schools and require 15 to 20 courses to graduate. This is perfect if you need to continue to work while you earn a higher degree. These programs do however require that you have a fairly strong science background at the lower level that would include chemistry, biology and/or molecular biology.
CSI Career Prospects
Crime Scene Investigation is a rapidly growing field. It is currently 2014 and forensic jobs have been projected to increase by 20 percent in the next 4 to 5 years. This is much more rapid then other fields. As scientific protocols become more widely accepted and perfected, this drives growth for crime scene investigations. Crime scene investigations themselves drive the development of new scientific methods so this system is self feeding. Positions fall into several categories which include government installations both local and state along with diagnostic labs, the federal government and engineering companies and expanding.
Crime Scene Investigator Salaries
As with any career, salaries vary by region, however you can expect a salary range from approximately $40k to has high as $70k. Believe it or not, states such as Wisconsin, Illinois and DC report average salaries ranging from $60k to $70k. Oddly enough, Florida reports an average salary of $45k yet it has the highest concentration of forensic scientists. Florida tends to be on the low side of everything, however it is the land of sunshine after all.
Crime Scene Career fields to Consider
Crime scene careers are divided up into a number of fields or perhaps subfields. You might want to consider becoming a crime scene investigator, crime laboratory analyst, forensic engineer, medical examiner, forensic psychologist. Most of these positions require higher level degrees but remember you can start with an associate’s degree and continue later. These careers are definitely exciting and certainly pay fairly well so they are well worth your consideration.
• Crime Scene Investigation Certificate – A number of institutions offer a comprehensive, hands-on program in CSI that initiates a foundation for a career in forensics. These are great programs in that they can be completed in one year or less (a crash course in summer is often offered). You will be taught the basics of crime scene management which includes proper collection and preservation of evidence and chain-of-custody. You will learn how to sample, photograph, and recover evidence. These programs are great for those of you who have no college background and require a short educational period. These certificates can be added on to at a later time. The cost of these certificates runs around $4,500 which is fantastic.
• Laboratory Analyst – These crime investigators tend to work inside and they run scientific tests on evidence collected by other crime scene investigators. Here you usually need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science but if you have a strong background in biology, chemistry or molecular biology that works as well. You may just need to pick up a few courses that pertain to forensic protocols.
• Forensic Engineer – These guys look at fires, traffic accidents and other crime scenes to determine cause of the crime. Thees positions require a bachelor’s degree in engineering with background in forensics.
• Medical Examiner (ME) – You may be familiar with this one from television programs as these guys look at dead bodies and try to determine cause of death. Obviously a medical degree is required here and of course they make considerably more salary.
• Forensic Psychologist – These individuals are often used as witnesses in court proceedings to bring forth a criminal’s motivation for such a crime. These scientists need to be familiar with physical evidence at the crime scene and the psychology of the criminal mind. These positions generally require a master’s degree in forensic psychology or criminal justice.
A U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent processes a crime scene on an Army installation. Thirty new sexual-assault investigators will be assigned to various major Army installations worldwide to assume the lead in forming special victim investigative units in support of the Armyâ€™s Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program known as SHARP.
This image is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain all rights relinquished.
Susan has studied at the University of Texas Medical Branch Marine Biomedical Institute in Galveston, Texas and the University of South Florida in Tampa and received a Ph.D. in Biology with a major in Neuroscience and minors in physics and mathematics. Area of research is in brain transplantation and behavior testing with twenty years of teaching experience. Fields of interest include the physical basis of memory and learning, brain repair and regeneration as well as neuro-development. As an educator, has taught thousands of students at the college level in anatomy and physiology, biology, microbiology, marinebiology, nutrition, communications, radiography, ultrasound, mathematics and physics. She enjoys reading current scientific literature and simplifying the material making it readily available to the public.