How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

crime scene investigator

Photo by Alan Cleaver

If you want to know how to become a crime scene investigator you have come to the right place. Here you can learn all you need to know to figure out if this is the right career path for you, and how to go about getting the qualifications you need. A crime scene investigator career can be a diverse and rewarding one and there are many ways to get on the right path and secure a job in this field.

A criminal investigator has a pivotal role in the criminal justice system. When a crime occurs, it is up to the CSI agent to document and investigate the crime scene and determine the who, what, where and why of the crime. If the job is done well then the crime will be solved, the perpetrator will be prosecuted and justice will be served. What could be more rewarding than that? If you like puzzle solving and have good attention to detail then this could be the right career path for you.

A CSI career can give you many different opportunities. You could work for a local police department where your position will likely cover the whole spectrum of tasks from attending and securing the crime scene, to collecting evidence, running fingerprints and examining DNA evidence in the lab, and then analysing it all to solve the crime. You could be employed with a larger state police or federal law enforcement agency where you might work as part of a CSI unit and only perform part of the process. You could become part of the medical examiner’s office as well.

You could also find work in the private sector for large companies, although for this you will most likely need a science or forensic science degree.

 

Crime Scene Investigator Job Description

 

The job of crime scene investigators is to preserve and document a crime scene in enough detail so that the crime can be reconstructed, investigated and solved. Crime investigation involves collecting and cataloging any evidence found at the scene so that it can be analysed to determine when, where and why the crime was committed. This will ideally lead to whoever committed the crime so they can be arrested and convicted.

As a forensic crime scene investigator, your job will involve collecting DNA evidence like fingerprints, hair, blood, skin and nails. Trace evidence collected may include footprints, glass, fibers, paint and weapons. Firearms evidence you find can include bullet fragments, spent casings, gun powder residue and weapons.

Depending on who you work for, as a crime scene technician you could be doing work as varied as securing the crime scene, tagging evidence, lifting prints, sketching or photographing the scene, taking detailed measurements, and attending autopsies to photograph and gather evidence from bodies. You may then be assigned to analyse the evidence in the lab, matching fingerprints, analysing blood spatter, or matching bullet fragments. You also may need to provide a written report detailing all of your findings, and you may also be required to testify in court.

You can also choose to specialise in just one area, like forensic DNA analysis or ballistics.

 

Crime Scene Investigator Salary

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for those employed as a detective or crime investigator is $79,030, and for a forensic science technician it is $57,340.

Crime Scene Careers
OccupationMean hourly wageMean annual wageLowest 10% earn less than:Top 10% earn more than:
Detectives and Criminal Investigators$38.00$79,030$40,110$125,320
Forensic Science Technicians$27.57$57,340$32,570$88,880
Forensic Psychologists$42.50$88,400$42,550$117,090

*This data was compiled from bls.gov.

 

Your criminal investigator salary will vary depending on your education, who you work for and what level you are at. You can improve your income by gaining further qualifications, getting on-the-job training and specializing in a particular area. Working longer hours, doing overtime and working on weekends and holidays can also help increase your pay.

Your location will also play a part in your salary in this field as well. Some of the top paying states for criminal investigators include Washington DC, New Jersey and California. The lowest paying states are Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina.

 

Crime Scene Investigator Education Requirements

 

Crime scene investigator requirements in most cases are a minimum 4 year bachelor degree. In some cases you may start out as a police officer and gain on the job training and then do further study to move into the investigation of crime scenes.

The most relevant crime scene investigator degree is a bachelor in forensic science. This is a cross disciplinary course that blends criminal justice with biology and biochemistry. So as well as learning criminology aspects, like collecting physical and trace evidence, DNA and latent fingerprints, you will also gain knowledge in biology and chemistry as well. It will prepare you for entry level work in the criminal justice system as an investigator or for work in a forensics lab.

Another option is to do a criminal justice degree which will provide you with a working knowledge of criminology and the criminal justice system without the science elements. Depending on the job you end up with you may then require additional training in forensics for certain positions.

There are also certificates and associate diplomas that cover all aspects of investigating crime scenes that can give you the knowledge you need to get your foot in the door.

 

Crime Scene Investigator Education and Training Path

 

The best path for your crime scene investigator training can be to enter law enforcement first. The majority of police departments will employ CSIs with a policing background. You can learn how to become a police officer and get a few years experience first. You will then be provided with the necessary training and education required to become a CSI.

Another option is to go the educational route where you will need a minimum associate or bachelor degree in criminal justice or forensic science. Depending on the degree you choose, you will study the necessary criminology and forensic coursework to gain employment and start your career.

A third option is open to you if you already hold a bachelors degree in another field. You can get a master’s degree in criminal justice or forensic science to help you secure a position. This is also an ideal way for someone with a bachelor degree in another field to specialize in a particular area of criminal investigation.

 

Crime Scene Investigator Colleges

 

Start your search for a good crime scene investigator school here. We have listed below some recommendations for each level of education.

Certificate Level
  1. crime scene investigation degree at Loyola UniversityLoyola University New Orleans offers a Certificate in Forensic Science Investigation that is a 20 credit course with 200 hours of instruction covering crime scenes and how to investigate, reconstruct and photograph them.
  2. University of California Riverside (UCR) offers a Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation that covers crime scene management and teaches the technical skills required to recover and photograph evidence at a crime scene.
  3. Kaplan University offers a Crime Scene Technician Certificate that can be completed online, with an introduction to criminology, physical and biological science.

 

Associate’s Degree
  1. criminal justice programs at Kaplan UniversityKaplan University has an Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice focusing on criminology, criminal law and counter terrorism that will help prepare you for entry level employment in these fields.
  2. Keiser University has an Associate of Science Degree in Crime Scene Technology that covers the principles, concepts and theories of investigating crimes.
  3. Florida Tech Online offers an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice that you can get in less than 20 months. This is ideal to help you gain skills for the workplace or as a jumpstart to a bachelor’s degree.

 

Bachelor’s Degree
  1. crime scene investigation degree at Penn StatePenn State has a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science with an emphasis on chemistry and biology that allows you to graduate as a trained scientist.
  2. Kaplan University has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice that has an emphasis area in crime scenes that covers fingerprint analysis, forensic chemistry and trace evidence analysis.
  3. The University of Southern Mississippi has a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science with an emphasis in criminal justice

 

Master’s Degree
  1. Crime Scene Investigation at George Washington UniversityGeorge Washington University offers a Master’s of Science in Crime Scene Investigation that teaches increased proficiency in forensic techniques and investigation. This course allows a combination of on campus and online for a quicker completion.
  2. Boston University offers a Master’s of Criminal Justice with courses in analyzing criminal behavior, forensic criminal investigation and terrorism. This course is offered on campus or online.
  3. Kaplan University has a Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice that allows you to specialize in areas such as Corrections, Law and Criminal Justice.

 

Crime Scene Investigation Jobs

 

Whatever educational path you take, your investigative career can lead you to many different job positions.

Crime Laboratory Analyst

This is mostly an indoor job where you will run scientific tests on physical evidence and provide an analysis for the investigator. You will need a forensic science, chemistry or biology related degree for this type of work. You can also specialize further into specific jobs like:

  • Forensic DNA Analyst who will focus only on DNA evidence collected at the crime scene.
  • Blood Spatter Analyst who will provide analysis of the blood evidence.
  • Ballistics Analyst who will investigate any evidence related to weapons and bullets

Crime Scene Photographer

In this position you will spend most of your time at the crime scene taking photographs of the evidence and providing a permanent detailed reconstruction for later analysis and investigation.

Forensic Computer Examiner

You will examine computers, media storage, mobile phones and tablets to discover evidence that may be related to a crime.

Forensic Document Examiner

This type of work includes the investigation of documents for things like forgery, comparing handwriting and signatures, detecting alterations, additions and erasures, comparing inks and identifying the type of writing instrument used.

Forensic Pathologist or Medical Examiner

This position involves examining the deceased to determine cause of death. It includes analysing medical history, examining the body and surrounding evidence at the scene of death, performing an autopsy and gathering evidence from the body. It will also include writing reports and maybe even testifying in court proceedings.

Forensic Psychologist

Here your focus will be on the psychological reasons around why people commit crimes helping to shed light on the motivations of a criminal that may help lead to catching them. You may also work with people accused of a crime to determine whether they are mentally fit to stand trial. This type of work usually requires a Master’s degree.

You now know how to become a criminal investigator. You should have the knowledge you need to decide whether this is the right career path for you. A career as a crime scene investigator will be a challenging and rewarding one, and there are plenty of opportunities for work that is engaging and exciting. This is just one of the many careers you can do with a criminal justice degree.