A crime scene investigator, also called a crime scene analyst, is a professional who works in the criminal justice system and supports various law enforcement agencies at state or federal levels. As part of the investigative unit in a law enforcement agency, a crime scene investigator (CSI) will follow chain-of-custody procedures and strict protocol in the field to document and process evidence that is found at the scene of a crime so that it can be used and preserved. As a support team member who works directly with police and detectives, the CSI plays a very important role in collecting physical evidence that will later be used by detectives and prosecutors. Rather than having the law enforcement expertise that a police officer or detective would have, a CSI will need to have a scientific expertise based solely on facts. Read on, and learn more about the roles of a CSI and what you can expect if you hold this title.
The salary that a crime scene investigator earns depends on several different factors. Your experience, the region that you work in, the type of agency that you work for, and your level of responsibility can all affect your earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a crime scene investigator is $56,980 per year.
Entry-level crime scene investigators may earn a lower salary than the average salary reported by the BLS. Once you graduate school, it is important to have a realistic expectation of what you will earn. New graduates can expect to earn an starting salary ranging between $30,000 and $49,000 depending on the setting that they work in.
Crime scene investigators will secure the crime scene prior to collecting physical evidence so that nothing at the scene is tampered with. Once the scene has been secured, the CSI will take detailed measurements and sketch diagrams of the scene for detectives. They will take supporting photographs for the case file, properly tag evidence, and write reports of all of the items taken from the scene. Investigators will follow proper protocol to label and package evidence so that it can be transported to the lab without being compromised. They may also use specialized equipment which may include: casting tools, latent print kits, print lifters and meter equipment. Once evidence is collected, the CSI will write a report that covers the collection procedures and the conclusions. They may also attend autopsies when a murder occurred at the scene and then testify about their findings in court when a suspect is being charged with the crime.
To become a crime scene investigator, you need a specific set of skills. Some of these skills can be learned and others are inherent within you when you are born. The most successful CSIs have an eye for detail and must be able to look beyond the obvious to connect the dots and create a big picture. CSIs also need deductive reasoning skills and the ability to follow their instincts when they are at a scene. Because report writing and measuring scenes are job duties of a CSI, you will need to have good communication, archiving and mathematics skills. All CSIs must be able to stay calm and composed in all situations, but compassionate when dealing with grieving family members.
Degree and Education Requirements
Crime Scene Investigators are forensic science experts in the justice system. Because of this, all CSI candidates must complete a formal degree program that will teach them the skills that they need to use in the field. The educational or degree requirements may vary from agency to agency, but most often state and federal agencies will only consider a candidate if they hold a 4-year Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college majoring in Forensic Science, Crime Scene Investigation or Criminalistics. Some agencies will allow hands-on training in lieu of a formal degree for the right candidate. These agencies offer lower salaries because they have less funding. A master’s degree in the field or a certification through International Association for Identification offers a Crime Scene Certification can help you work your way up the ladder so that you can hold more responsibility and earn a higher salary. An advanced degree may also qualify you to become a Forensic Science Section Supervisor if you want to lead.
Rewards and Challenges of This Position
There are pros and cons associated with all occupations. Knowing the rewards and challenges of holding the title Crime Scene Investigator is important. For people who are looking for thought-provoking work where they can use their curious mind, the field can be rewarding. Many like the fact that they work in different settings and no day is the same. People who love the field also love their position because they are helping victims of a crime by aiding detectives in the investigation. While the field is rewarding and satisfying to the right candidates, there are challenges as well. Crime scene investigation is a very stressful field and you may work in dangerous and dirty settings bending and kneeling for very long hours. Crime happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You must be available when you are called, which may tap into time you have to spend with your family.
Once you have a formal degree, it is important to stand out as a good candidate for the position so that you can land a position. Here are some tips on how to get started in the career so that you are successful in the long-term:
* Completing the police academy is necessary when the law enforcement agency in your area requires CSIs to be sworn police officers. By completing the program, you can complete an integral step to employment before you apply.
* Get on-the-job experience by working under a senior investigator so that you can put the experience on your resume. This is especially beneficial in school.
* Get certified with the International Association for Identification after you have one year of experience so that you can hold a certification for 5 years.
* Network with law enforcement agencies.
In a perfect world there would be no crime, but because crime is not entirely preventable there will always be a need for crime scene investigators. There is a positive job outlook for CSI professionals and it is projected that the demand in the field will grow by 6 percent within the next 8 years. The need for professionals will be greatest in local law enforcement agencies where experienced professionals are close to retirement. There are also positions available at a Federal level.
Crime Scene Investigators play an important role in investigating crime. If you have always dreamed of using your skills in a rewarding field where you can make a difference, this could be the field for you to pursue.