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The preservation of a crime scene and the collection of evidence at that scene is of the utmost importance if police and other law enforcement agencies want to be able to solve the crime. While police officers may be able to identify pieces of evidence they will need, they may not have the specialized training required to collect it properly and preserve any elements that could be used to point the finger at a suspect. They need a crime scene investigator who has been thoroughly trained in forensics and knows how to properly collect various types of evidence.
What Is a Crime Scene Investigator?
Crime scene investigators are called to the scene of a crime and asked to collect any evidence they find or that is pointed out to them by law enforcement officers. The evidence they collect is sent to a crime lab to be thoroughly tested and analyzed by forensic specialists. A crime scene analyst may know how to collect and preserve evidence, but they will rely on a lab technician to perform the actual tests to identify the specifics each piece of evidence holds.
What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?
Evidence collection is a very precise and detailed process. A crime scene investigator carries a special kit that contains all of the tools of their trade. This normally includes small Ziploc baggies, tweezers, scissors, latex gloves, masks, and many other items they will need to allow them to be as thorough as possible. When a law enforcement agency arrives at a crime scene, its first job is to secure the area. A technician who specializes in crime scene photography will begin to take photos of the scene. When the initial walk-through has been completed, all biological evidence will be collected as well as any other physical evidence found at the scene.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Crime Scene Investigator?
The primary responsibility of a crime scene investigator, forensic scientist, or homeland security investigator is to collect, preserve, analyze, and document any evidence (including trace evidence) they collect at a crime scene. It is their job to preserve the integrity of any evidence that is found until it can be used as an exhibit in court. In some cases, a crime scene analyst may be required to testify in court or sit for a deposition to provide professional evidence about a crime scene and what was collected. Law enforcement agencies rely on crime scene investigators to uncover evidence that may be hidden in plain sight.
Skills and Traits That Crime Scene Investigators Need
A crime scene investigator must have certain skills and traits that will allow them to do their job quickly, efficiently, and as diligently as possible. These skills include:
- Exceptional communication skills are needed to produce accurate reports as well as provide professional testimony if they are called as a witness in a trial or legal proceeding.
- Maintain composure at all times, especially at horrific crime scenes that can be traumatizing and very upsetting.
- Exceptional attention to detail when identifying, collecting, preserving, and analyzing evidence that has been collected.
- Detailed analysis and critical thinking skills that allow the investigator to use various scientific testing methods and compare the results to different databases.
- Proficient in math and science, as well as other physical sciences.
Accuracy and the ability to maintain focus under intense pressure are also essential characteristics. Crime scene investigators may also specialize in many different types of evidence. Some may work solely with fingerprints or handwriting, while others specialize in blood spatter or identifying various types of wounds. Depending on the type of work they perform, investigators may be required to work odd hours.
Cyber Security Crime Scene Technicians
Computer forensics is now one of the most popular types of criminal justice career and is increasingly more common in homeland security offices. Cyber crimes are continuing to rise as predators and hackers are able to use technological advancements to their advantage. If this field is chosen, the continuing education required to remain effective is extensive and must be completed on a yearly basis.
Steps You Need to Take to Become a Crime Scene Investigator
Becoming a crime scene investigator is not a lengthy process, but it is quite rigorous when it comes to education and gaining the experience you need. Some law enforcement agencies will offer internships to students who are working towards their criminal justice or crime scene investigation/forensics degree programs. The more they can learn from hands-on experience and the guidance of a mentor, the better off they will be.
The first part of the education process is to complete high school. Coursework should lean heavily toward math and science. A student’s GPA should also be considerably higher than average. Many high schools offer summer science programs that students can enroll in to enhance their education and better prepare them for college.
After graduating from high school, students will then need to enroll in a CSI degree program (either Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree) or a qualified law enforcement academy that offers the specialized courses required to work in the forensics field.
After earning their CSI degree, the next step is to become certified to work in the field. Different certifications may be required for different types of forensic investigations. To become certified, the applicant may have to take additional courses in the type of forensics you have chosen. Once you have met the requirements to be eligible to apply for certification, you can register to take the test. In order, to be certified, you must pass the test with a certain percentage.
Join a Professional Association
Although most states don’t require a CSI tech to obtain a license or apply with a degree in hand, it is beneficial to have both if you want to be considered credible and have a strong reputation as a crime scene investigator. One organization that CSI technicians can join is the International Crime Scene Investigation Association. Joining this organization provides the investigator with the certification and credentials they will need to be effective. In order to be certified, the applicant must have at least two years of experience, pass the exam (100 questions), and complete 50 hours of crime scene processing courses and pass with flying colors. There are many other forensic organizations that a CSI tech can join as well.
Continue Your Education
If a CSI tech becomes certified, they will be required to complete a specific number of continuing education hours per year to keep their certification in good standing. Crime scene investigators now have the option to continue their education online. This allows them to maintain a full work schedule and study for their advanced degrees in their spare time. They are able to apply for new opportunities in the workplace and still move forward with their education. They can also begin to expand on their areas of expertise and increase the value of their resume.
The career outlook for crime scene investigators and forensic scientists is very good. As technology advances and more opportunities are made available when it comes to testing and evaluating evidence, more crime scene investigators and lab technicians will be needed to keep up with the increasing demands. The more education and experience you have will give you the edge over other applicants who may be just starting out.
Advancements in Technology
Advancements in technology mean an increase in the ability to be more efficient and more accurate when evaluating and analyzing evidence. This is why continuing education is so important. Keeping up with advancing technology is the key to solving crimes and being able to prove guilt or innocence without any shadow of a doubt. Using all of the technology you have at your disposal, makes the job of a crime scene investigator much easier and incredibly more accurate.
Salary Range for Crime Scene Investigators
A crime scene investigator who is just starting their career may be able to make up to $35,000 per year depending on the size of the community they live in. Those who have more than ten years in the field and have significant areas of specialization may be able to earn as much as $100,000 per year or more. The more education and experience a technician gains, the more likely it is that they will receive offers to advance within their career field.
Many law enforcement officers choose to take classes geared towards forensics and other types of investigations. This not only gives them extra tools they can use, it also gives them an alternative career path to fall back on.