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What does a Crime Scene Investigator do?

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 investigator

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

What does a Criminal Investigator do?

Criminal investigators and detectives typically specialize in one area of crime such as homicide, bank robbery, or fraud. Working as an investigator requires knowledge of jurisdictional law, law enforcement policies and procedures, interpersonal skills, verbal and written communication skills, and problem solving and analytical skills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that law enforcement professionals frequently experience dangerous situations and stressful working conditions. As a criminal investigator, you may work at violent crime scenes and encounter severely injured or deceased crime victims.

Still want to work as a criminal investigator?

These professionals are assigned crimes by their agencies and usually work each case from start to finish. Observing crime scenes, interviewing witnesses, victims, and persons connected with the crime scene or suspects is all part of the job. You may also be involved in researching suspects, reviewing statements provided by witnesses, coordinating with colleagues for investigating crimes and developing case files. Unlike the pristine designer clothes worn by TV criminal investigators, you can expect to get “down and dirty” on the job. Criminal investigators work long hours and several days in a row, when working a crime.

Criminal investigator jobs: where they are and what they pay

The BLS reports that the highest number of detective and criminal investigator jobs were found in local government agencies followed by the executive branch of the federal government and state agencies. The highest paying investigator jobs are rare. The top paying employers are the U.S. Postal Service and federal executive branch.

criminal investigator

Criminal investigator education requirements

Members of local police departments can generally progress through the ranks to become detectives, but state and federal positions generally require a bachelor’s degree in administrative justice, criminal justice, law enforcement or related field. As law enforcement officers, criminal justice officers also receive job training through a law enforcement training academy and ongoing on-the-job training.

College coursework includes police science, state and local law, constitutional law and civil rights, investigative techniques and law enforcement technology. Military service and training may substitute for some types of law enforcement training. Criminal investigator positions hired through state and local law enforcement agencies typically require passing a competitive written civil service examination. Reading, language comprehension, quantitative and analytical skills are necessary for passing such exams.

Earning a degree in criminal justice or a related field can help current law enforcement officers fast-track their careers toward a criminal investigator position.

What does a Forensic Pathologist do?

Sudden, unexplained, or suspicious deaths are usually subject to a criminal investigation. Forensic pathologists play an important role in that investigation by helping to explain how and why a person has died.

forensic pathologist

What are the typical responsibilities of a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist is responsible for determining the cause of death when a person dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances. They perform an autopsy or post mortem examination and produce a report that contains details about what has caused the person’s death plus conclusions about the circumstances that have lead to their death based on the interpretation of his or her findings.

A forensic pathologist’s job typically involves some or all of the following:

  • Conducting a full anatomical examination of a body after death
  • Documenting all findings of the examination
  • Highlighting any injuries or diseases that could have resulted in the person’s death
  • Recording the professionals’ opinions about how the identified injuries or diseases have occurred
  • Determining the manner of death: accidental, homicide, natural causes, suicide, or undetermined
  • Determining the identity of the deceased
  • Collecting or photographing evidence such as injuries, bodily tissues or fluids, and fibers or other materials that could be used to determine the circumstances of the person’s death and that may be required as part of a legal investigation
  • Testifying or acting as a witness in a court of law, where the forensic pathologist may be required to explain evidence or findings to non-medical personnel and defend his or her conclusions

In this career, you may often work closely with colleagues in other areas of forensics such as medicine, dentistry, toxicology, and entomology to help them to carry out a thorough examination and draw fully informed conclusions. You are also likely to work closely with legal and criminal investigation personnel, and need to have a detailed understanding of legal processes.

What qualifications do forensic pathologists need?

Forensic pathologists are medically trained professionals (M.D.s) who have completed several years’ training after graduating from medical school. Their additional training takes the form of a residency in anatomical pathology or a combined anatomical and clinical pathology residency plus a fellowship in forensic pathology. This can take a total of up to 16 years: 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of med school, and between 3 and 8 years of internship and residency.

Forensic pathologists are usually employed by Federal, State or local government.

Salaries for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of any occupation in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This indicates the level of financial reward for those who have committed the necessary time and energy to such an intriguing and multi-faceted career.