CSI and its spin-offs are extremely popular TV programs about crime scene investigation but, if you are considering a career as a forensic investigator, you will have to separate the myths from the reality. Do these people actually go to crime scenes with police or do they stay in laboratories testing evidence? How much education do you need for the profession and what kind of salaries do they earn?
What is a Forensic Investigator?
These professionals collect, analyze and document evidence found at crime scenes, often dealing with homicides. It is crucial that they be detail-oriented and meticulous in procedure. The field is diverse and, unlike their TV counterparts, most criminal scene investigators do not carry firearms.
What is the Job Description?
The job varies by employer and specialty. Most investigators work for the medical examiner’s office. Some investigators are technicians who work under the supervision of other personnel in collecting evidence. Others work as forensic scientists in laboratories running tests on evidence to detect even microscopic elements and some actually do visit crime scenes, just as on the dramas. Once there, they assist law enforcement in protecting the integrity of crime scenes, restricting access to them and defining the perimeter. The investigators photograph things like blood spatters and body positions, photograph and take casts of footprints and tire tracks and collect even miniscule bits of evidence. This must be done meticulously so that the evidence is not tainted and the law must be followed exactly. Everything has to be well-documented and standard procedures followed to the letter. They are sometimes called upon to give evidences or testify in court as well, and legal procedures can hinge upon tiny deviations from protocol.
What Education is Required?
TV actors often portray professionals in this field who seem to have little special education and are rebuffed by superiors for their loose-cannon techniques. The truth is that there are technician positions that you can get with only an associate degree and some experience, but the standard for jobs in this field is a bachelor’s degree. You don’t necessarily have to earn your degree in criminology, though. You can be a biologist, a chemist or have another major that interfaces with the skills you need for this career. You can specialize your degree with criminology courses. Most positions require an extensive probation period of employment during which you get on-the-job training. An article on Crime Scene Investigator, says that investigators should be certified too. Certification is performed by organizations such as the American Board of Criminalists. The investigators can earn Comprehensive Criminalistics certification and then get additional certificates in areas such as molecular biology, chemistry of drugs and trace evidence.
Related Resource: Skills Needed To Become a Detective
These positions are not highly paid, unless you are in upper-level management for a governmental agency. The technician positions earn salaries from $30,000 and median salaries for degreed professionals are around $55,000. Professionals working for federal law enforcement agencies’ sometimes earn more rain $95,000 a year. People who work in this career, however, are often motivated by curiosity and passion. Job satisfaction is high. If you are detail-oriented and observant, not squeamish and have a passion to solve puzzles, a career as a forensic investigator may be right for you