Over the last decade criminal investigation fields have become very popular. There are many careers and specialties that fall into this profession, with a variety of possible education paths. The complexity of this sector leaves prospective investigators wondering, “How do I become a criminal investigator?” Below is a simple, how-to guide.
What’s it like to be a criminal investigator? Job duties vary greatly depending on education, prior experience and areas of interest. Individuals who choose to become a criminal investigator are considered law enforcement professionals who participate in the process of solving crimes through their area of specialty. Investigators may analyze evidence, gather it from a crime scene, conduct searches and interviews or perform surveillance operations. Depending on the individual’s career path, criminal investigators may work as part of a team or alone. They may work in the field or in a laboratory. Often times they are called to testify in court as to evidence recovered from a crime scene or evidence discovered via lab tests.
The education options for students seeking to become a criminal investigator are numerous. Some states and jurisdictions will hire investigators based on experience, but most prefer a bachelor’s degree. A major in criminal justice or criminology is a popular choice for individuals wanting to become a criminal investigator. Depending on the branch of criminal investigation you are seeking, other helpful degree specialties include psychology, sociology, crime scene investigation, forensics or forensic accounting. If you seek to pursue a career in the laboratory, obtaining a degree in forensic biology, forensic science, chemistry or computer science is advisable. Many online universities offer an accelerated program that allows students to get into the field faster.
Certain areas of criminal investigation require less education. Two-year programs or certifications are available. However, they are usually very specific as to the area of evidence analysis. Obtaining a four-year degree offers greater flexibility and opportunities for advancement.
Education requirements may also vary based on the state and jurisdiction you wish to serve. Some areas will allow individuals with only a high school diploma to receive on-the-job training for specific jobs. Certain areas may also require that criminal investigators receive police officer training and work in the field before moving on to become an investigator.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics, jobs in forensic science increased by 20 percent just between 2010 and 2011. If you are seeking to become a criminal investigator, the options are plentiful and salaries range depending on career path and jurisdiction. On the higher end of the salary spectrum are executive-level positions, boasting a mean wage of $96,290. The average annual salary for forensic technicians in 2010 was $51,570. Criminalists’ salaries range between $65,000 to $100,000. Crime scene supervisors can make between $65,000 and $98,000.
The key to finding a job in the field of criminal investigation is to research and prepare. Research the area that interests you the most. Prepare by receiving appropriate education. Research the job offerings and the agencies seeking to hire. Learn about their requirements, applicable exams and level of experience expected.