A crime scene investigator (sometimes known as a forensic scientist) collects and examines the physical evidence found during a criminal investigation. The crime scene investigator also performs lab tests on weapons, fiber, hair, and tissue and might be asked to testify as an expert witness for a trial.
Crime scene investigators may decide to specialize in a certain area, like ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, or biochemistry. Your attention to detail, interests in science and law, and strong stomach can be the tools you need to get you started on this exciting and growing career.
More than CSI: details in the duties
A crime scene investigator collects the physical evidence found at the crime scene. That material is taken to the lab, where the crime scene investigator examines and tests it. Depending on the material collected, a crime scene investigator can answer questions about past events, such as time of death, the cause of a car accident, or the weapon used. The crime scene investigator also works closely with law enforcement and others involved in the case or investigation.
While each episode of CSI lasts only an hour, crime scene investigators need to work much longer–and less regular–hours. You can expect to be called whenever and wherever a crime occurs, which means you can be called in the middle of the night, on a holiday, or during a special event.
You’ll also need to keep your record clean. Because crime scene investigators work in the justice system, having a criminal record can keep you from getting most jobs in forensics. Another important thing you will likely need is a strong stomach, as crime scene investigators often work with grisly (and messy) scenes.
Education: training in forensics
A crime scene investigator usually needs to have a bachelor’s degree in natural science, along with some courses in law enforcement and crime scene processing, or in criminal justice, with some courses in natural science.
Crime scene investigators who decide on a specialty (such as handwriting analysis, forensic anthropology, or psychology) will most likely need additional education.
Crime scene investigator pay and growth
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects that forensic science technicians will grow by 20 percent, faster than average for all occupations. According to the BLS, industries with the highest levels of employment were as follows, with their respective mean annual salaries:
- Local government
- State government
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories