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crime scene investigator

Job Spotlight - Crime Scene Investigator

You may find yourself watching one of those popular television shows about a hard-boiled Crime Scene Investigator and think that it looks like a cool job. If you’ve been looking for a new vocation, you may searched the internet for more information on what it takes to become a member of the CSI team. Luckily, this website is your go-to source for more information on the job of a Crime Scene Investigator.
 

Quick Facts: Crime Scene Investigators
2015 Median Pay (Annual) $56,320
2015 Median Pay (Hourly) $27.08
Entry Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Recommended Education At least a bachelor’s degree
2014-2024 Projected Outlook 27% growth (much faster than average)
2014 Number of Jobs 14,400
2014-2024 Estimated Employment Gains 3,800

Resource: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Find a Crime Scene Investigator Program Near You

Use our quick search feature below to find featured schools near you that are currently accepting students.

Crime Scene Investigator FAQs

On this website we will answer many of the most-frequently-asked questions about working as a Crime Scene Investigator. We will look at a number of areas including what the job entails, how to get the right education, to the expected outlook for the future of this position. We will not pull any punches when presenting this information to provide you with a straight forward analysis of what to expect. Please feel free to contact us if you have any other questions, comments or suggestions.

What is a Crime Scene Investigator?

CSI members are critical in the judicial system to take the bad guys off the street and in to jail where they belong. By using science, math and logic, a Crime Scene Investigator will reconstruct a crime scene to show before, during and after to help better decode how or why a crime or accident took place.  They help process crime or accident scenes and gather important evidence that tell a story. The evidence they collect will help link the criminal to the crime making it easier to prosecute.

One of the major jobs of any CSI member is to collect, secure and analyze evidence while following strict protocols to keep the evidence from being tainted or contaminated. The job is not easy nor for those with a weak stomach since sometimes crime scenes can be brutal or the environment may not be that hospitable to locating evidence.

While most Crime Scene Investigators work in sheriff or police departments there are other employment opportunities out there. These other opportunities include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), insurance companies or working as independent experts in related investigations.

How to Get Started as a Crime Scene Technician

Quick Info: How to Get Into CSI
Education
• Complete high school or earn your GED
• Enroll in an accredited college or university
• Study Forensic Science, Criminology or Crime Scene Investigation (if available)
• Take classes in chemistry and biology
• Graduate with at least a bachelor’s of science degree
• The military is an alternative to college
• If possible, try to get in to an internship program
• Attend a police academy, if possible

Crime Scene Investigator isn’t a job you can come off the street and apply for without formal education. The route to working as a CSI member is really decided by where you live and which law enforcement agency you want to join. For example, some departments require applicants to have a law enforcement background while others hire civilians with a post-secondary degree in science related subjects.

You will need to contact any law enforcement agency you are interested in apply for before you start the process.  Now with that caveat out of the way, let’s look at some of the subjects you should consider if you really want to work in this field.

Education

More than likely you will need to hold some science related post-secondary degree if you really want to work as a Crime Scene Investigator. While there are a few departments that only require a high school diploma or a GED, you will find those opportunities far and few between as more agencies are looking for college graduates. While there are some departments that require at least a two-year or four-year degree to qualify for the job.

Our suggestion is earn at least your bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology, molecular biology. Better yet, a four-year degree in forensic science, crime scene investigation or criminology may be more helpful for your long range goals. You may even consider earning your master’s degree in the forensic sciences to help bolster your chances of landing a job with better pay and more advancement possibilities.

Pros

  • Post-secondary education can give you an edge when looking for a job
  • College degrees may be necessary for some jobs
  • Learn the latest CSI techniques from professionals

Cons

  • Two to four years in school
  • Must pay money to go to school
  • May need to relocate to go to the right school
Military Experience

If you are not looking to go back to school, you can always join the military. The U.S. armed forces can provide you with some of the experience needed to work as a Crime Scene Investigator along with education in law enforcement and criminal investigations. Those who join the military for this type of vocation will have to earn their place by starting in enforcement and work their way up to a Crime Scene Investigator type position.

Please take note that joining the military should not be done a whim. You need to think through your decision and know that you will be signing up for at least four years of duty. During this time you may be sent to potential hostile areas such as war zones or terrorist breeding grounds. It is a 24/7 adventure that can serve you better than you will presently know by giving the skills, confidence and knowledge that may greatly help you on the outside.

Pros

  • Professional training and experience
  • Military service looks great when trying to find a job in law enforcement
  • You are paid to learn

Cons

  • Four-year enlistment
  • Possible deployment to hazardous areas
  • Not guaranteed to learn about CSI
Extra Hands-On Experience

As with almost any job in the criminal justice field, you will spend part of your new job working as an apprentice under those Crime Scene Investigators with more experience. The amount of on-the-job experience really depends on which specialty you may choose or how quickly you can pick up the task before you will be able to work on your own. For example, those wanting to work in DNA-analysis may be an apprentice for less than a year while those working in other specialty areas may take upwards of three years before they can work independently.

Experience

In some areas, police officers or members of the sheriff’s department double up as officers and Crime Scene Technicians. So it is possible you may run across some agencies that are looking for people with law enforcement experience. This is common in smaller departments to help save money.

You can always study to work as a police officer to eventually meet this requirement. Of course this will add several years on to your goal to become a Crime Scene Investigator but may well be worth it.

Typical Requirements to Work in CSI

As previously mentioned, the requirements to work as a Crime Scene Investigator weighs mostly on the regulations of the police or sheriff’s department you want to work for. There are usually more requirements than experience or education to consider. A few of the more common requirements you may have to meeting include:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have valid driver’s license
  • Be able to pass a drug test
  • Clean criminal record
  • Pass the physical fitness test
  • Fluent in English

Where Can I Find CSI Schools?

The internet is a great place to start looking for schools offering degree programs for an aspiring Crime Scene Investigator such as CSI, criminology, forensics science or any of the other majors previously mentioned. You will want to find a college, university or community college that is well respected and is an accredited school.

Do a little research on each school that you are interested in so that you can find one that fits your expectations. Find one that fits your budget or has what you are looking for. Plus, find out if there are any internships that you can take while in school so you can start gaining some real-world experience.

Military Options

If you are looking to pad your resume a bit, you can always join the military. A Crime Scene Investigator stars out in law enforcement and works their way up. The experience you will receive in law enforcement is near the best you can get not to mention the other benefits of a paycheck, full-time work and free room and board. However, you should know that you are committing four years of your life to the strict regimen of the military order. To be honest, some people can’t handle it.

There are some requirements that you will need to meet to join any of the military branches. These requirements are:

Three of the main branches in the military have CSI teams. The U.S. Army has the Criminal Investigation Command (CID), the Navy’s is called Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Air Force has the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). You can find out more information about these and enlistment by visiting your local recruiter or by visiting their web sites.

Are There Any Crime Scene Investigation Online Programs?

If you haven’t noticed over the last decade, online schools have really begun taking off as an alternative to on-campus schools. This growth in popularity has helped increase the educational worth and benefit of online schools while diminishing the negative perceptions that some people may hold. Those looking to get an education for work as a Crime Scene Investigator can take use of the online programs to help them start their profession.

CSI and other related majors taught through online programs are as good as those taught in a traditional classroom setting. Plus there are a great number of benefits that online schools can have over the more traditional on-campus programs such as:

  • Flexible Schedules – Perfect for those looking to change careers
  • Study Anywhere at Top College around the Nation
  • Study Anytime Day or Night – Great for stay at home parents
  • Don’t Have to Commute To Class

How Long Does Evidence Technician School Take?

More than likely you are going to have to earn a post-secondary degree to become a Crime Scene Investigator. While some police and sheriff departments only require a 2 year degree, we highly recommend earning your 4 year bachelor degree. Not only will a bachelor degree open up more opportunities but it could give you an extra edge over someone with just a 2 year degree. In other words, the more education you have can make you more competitive for job openings.

What is the Crime Scene Examiner Job Description?

After watching a few television shows depicting a CSI unit, you think you have some idea what the Crime Scene Investigator job description is, but trust me when I say that their job isn’t based on driving black SUVs with classic rock blaring in the background. Crime Scene Investigators work hard and sometimes long hours to help figure out a crime and put the bad person away. Rarely if ever do they get the satisfaction of confronting the criminal or receive the accolades that they most righteously deserve.

Some of the typical duties of a Crime Scene Investigator include:

  • Responding to crime scenes quickly in all kinds of weather or time of day
  • Secure the crime scenes to lower the chance of contamination of evidence
  • Search for, identify and properly bag evidence for further investigation
  • Process and preserve evidence
  • Accurately record the crime scene in detailed reports along with photographs, sketches and diagrams
  • Attempt to restructure or reconstruct the crime scene to create a series of events before, during and after the crime has taken place
  • Give expert testimony in court cases
  • Follow the protocols of the department to keep the chain of evidence and the purity of the evidence from being broken
  • Dust and lift finger prints including possible latent prints
  • Speak with attending law enforcement for any information they have gathered including eyewitness statements
  • Call in ballistics experts, if necessary
  • Analyze blood splatters or bullet marks
  • Make precise measurements of evidence
  • Transporting evidence
  • Briefing crime investigators on findings or theories

What Are The Character and Personality Traits of a CSI?

As you probably have guessed or seen on television shows, a Crime Scene Investigator is extremely important when it comes to catching criminals. You may see crime scenes that will break your heart or even be something out of a nightmare, but you have to remain professional through it all. You will also need to have a set of personal traits or characteristics that will not only make the job slightly easier but also help you become successful in your field. Some of these traits include:

Good Communication Skills: Strong oral and written communication skills are important to Crime Scene Investigator so they can provide an accurate description of the crime scene. You will be talking with police officers and other professionals concerning the evidence. You may also be called in to court for testimony.

Team Work Mentality: You are a member of law enforcement so you will need to work as a team with other CSI members and anyone else involved in the investigation. You may also need to ask for their help as well as you may be asked to help in certain situations. You will need to act professionally and treat your team members with respect.

Detail Oriented: Since you will be responsible for accurate information and collecting pieces of data and evidence, you will have to pay close attention to detail. Having sharp observational skills can help find inconsistencies to the scene or small details that you may have missed.

Analytical or Critical Thinking: When you look at a crime scene, you will need to be able to decipher the significance of details around the room and how it may be part of the evidence to be collected. Like making a jigsaw puzzle, each piece of information should fit in together to help make the scene make some sense.

Deductive Reasoning: Part of your job will using math and science to help reconstruct a crime scene in order to have a better understanding where evidence may be found. Figuring the trajectory of blood splatters or what items might have some fingerprints for you lift is very important when collecting samples or taking pictures of the scene.

Adaptation: A Crime Scene Investigator needs to adapt to any situation. Not all crimes happen in a temperature controlled environment so you will need to be able to adapt to situation. Stifling heat, massive downpour, blizzard conditions, mud up to your ankles or where ever the crime takes place, you will need to just get busy and get the job done. Be prepared to work long hours and as quickly as possible depending on the situation.

Methodical Mind Set: A Crime Scene Investigator has to be methodical. Since collecting evidence is part of a scientific approach to solving a crime, you will need to follow a specific step-by-step approach to do the job. Plus, you will need to follow the protocols and rules for collecting and preserving evidence from contamination.

Integrity and Objectivity: As a Crime Scene Technician, you should not be jumping to conclusions before the evidence is collected. This can taint the process since you may miss details that are inconsistent with your prejudice. Also keep in mind that you should be very careful by abiding by the laws since your good name and reputation may be called in to question at any trial.

Patience: Working as Crime Scene Investigator can become a bit tiresome at times. You have to be thorough in your work and not just speed things up because you are bored. This also goes for analyzing the evidence too since there may be times you will face contaminated evidence or something that isn’t fitting the pattern that you see.

Strong Stomach and Composure: There are times you will be subjected to crime scenes full of gore or see things that may be hard to forget. We’re not going to lie, this job can be very stressful. You have to get past that by replacing your natural human emotions with a professional mindset to do the job correctly.

What is the Median Crime Scene Investigator Salary?

The latest information gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual median Crime Scene Investigator salary to be $56,320 or $27.08 an hour. The top 10% earning as much as $85,000 and the lowest making $32,000. Outside of the fairly desirable pay, there are chances for overtime as well as pretty good benefits. Normal benefits include insurance, pension plan and vacation/sick time.

crime scene investigator salary

Your actual pay will vary slightly depending on where you live, how big of the department you work in and your experience. With some ambition and possible extra schooling it is possible to earn even more by advancement or becoming more specialized in forensics field.

What Is the Job Outlook for CSI?

The future outlook for new job openings for Crime Scene Investigators is much faster than the average of all occupations in the country through 2024, making it a viable career for those with ambition. The need for the CSI position should always be there and the chances for advancement are fairly strong.

Crime Scene Investigators Estimated Job Growth

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