With the popularity of television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, careers in those fields have also become more popular and have left many wondering “how do I become a crime scene investigator?” While being a real forensic investigator isn’t quite as exciting as the portrayal on TV, it can still be a rewarding career that allows you to give back to the community and help those in need.
Real crime scene investigators do much of what is seen on television, including processing and documenting a crime scene and collecting evidence, but depending on the size and location of the agency, a crime scene investigator might do more or less. Most often, however, crime scene investigators are given three main tasks: scene recognition, scene documentation, and evidence collection. Scene recognition is simply a preliminary search of a crime scene. Scene documentation requires investigators to take photos, draw sketches and make notes about the scene that they are investigating. After those steps are completed, investigators collect evidence which will be processed later at a lab.
The amount of education needed to become a crime scene investigator varies by position. For instance, a technician working out in the field will need less training than a Criminalist who is processing evidence in a lab. Some departments require a four year degree (usually in science or Criminal Justice) while others may want a certificate program or a high school diploma/GED. Since every agency’s requirements are different, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with their expectations before applying.
While a degree in science (like Biology) or criminal justice is an excellent place to start, there are other paths that can make you marketable to agencies looking for crime scene investigators. There are many colleges and universities that offer Forensic Programs and Crime Scene Investigation programs outside of the more general sciences and Criminal Justice. Community colleges and respectable online programs are also available for those interested in Crime Scene Investigation training. Depending on the program, you can earn a full degree or a certificate in the field. These programs usually take less time than a traditional four-year university. Be sure to research any program, especially if it is online, to make sure that you will be getting a legitimate degree. These programs may help supplement an existing degree, or they may be able to stand alone as qualification, based on the agency’s requirements.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor, crime scene investigators who work in the field as technicians typically make between $51,200 and $63,440 per year. A Criminalist can expect to make somewhere between $65,640 and $102,190.
To find a job in the crime scene investigation field, start by searching the employment pages of local police agencies. Make yourself familiar with their requirements. Once you know you fulfill those requirements, prepare for the interview by studying up on the agency and the job requirements. Agencies will appreciate applicants that have done their homework both about the position and about the community that they serve.