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How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator: A Complete Guide

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Do you love to solve problems? Are you curious about how and why things happen the way they do? Do you want to help people? If you answered yes to these questions, continue reading to learn how to become a forensics and crime investigator. This article will explore the skills and education needed to become a Crime Scene Investigator, the earning potential, and any opportunities for advancement in the field. Let’s get started!

What is Forensics and Crime Investigation?

What is Forensics

The scientific procedures used to solve a crime are known as forensics. Forensic investigation is the combination and examination of all crime-related physical evidence. Investigators examine blood, fluid, fingerprints, residue, hard drives, computers, or other technologies to determine how a crime occurred.

Related Resource: Online Degrees Prep Grads to Fight Computer Crime – Cybersecurity Careers

What is Crime Scene Investigation

Crime-scene investigation entails the meticulous collection of evidence, which is processed at a crime laboratory by professionals known as crime-scene investigators (CSIs). Evidence collected by CSIs and examined by forensic professionals is sometimes the only undeniable evidence given at trial.

Who are Crime Scene Investigators

A crime scene investigator is one of the first specialists to arrive at a crime scene. They inspect the scene and obtain evidence, such as pictures and physical evidence. This evidence is taken to a laboratory, where a forensic scientist will use various scientific procedures to analyze the evidence. Each profession performs a vital part in the criminal justice system’s investigation process.

Finally, it’s crucial to distinguish between a crime scene investigator and a criminal investigator. A crime scene investigator collects and analyses information obtained at the crime scene. Their task is complete after all relevant information has been acquired and processed. On the other hand, a criminal investigator or detective carries out the entire criminal investigation.

Who are Forensic Scientists

Forensic scientists study and analyze evidence from crime scenes and other locations to produce objective results that can aid in the investigation and prosecution of criminals or exonerate an innocent person. There are many common types of forensic sciences. These include: forensic molecular biology, forensic chemistry, trace evidence examination, latent fingerprint examination, firearms, tool marks examination, handwriting analysis, fire and explosives examinations, forensic toxicology, and digital forensics.

Forensic pathology, forensic nursing, forensic psychiatry, forensic entomology, and forensic engineering are some of the forensic fields practiced outside of forensic laboratories. Medical examiners and coroners’ offices, institutions, and private clinics are all places to find practitioners of these professions.

Skills of a CSI

A crime scene investigator has many innate skills that help them do their job well. CSI’s are:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Critical-thinkers
  • Focused
  • Organized
  • Unbiased, objective
  • Problem-solvers

The Steps to Become a Forensics and Crime Investigator

Higher Education for CSI’s

Understanding the foundations of a crime scene investigator’s tasks is essential. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, computer science, or biologywill provide you with the expertise you’ll use as a crime scene investigator.

Gain Experience

Next, you will need to gain real-world work experience such as gathering evidence and processing and analyzing it. You can do this through an internship or work in crime scene investigation. Most employers expect you to have six months to two years of experience.

CSI Certificates & Licensure

The prerequisites for state licensure as a crime scene investigator vary from state to state. It is essential to look into what the state requires where you’d like to work.

Depending on the crime scene investigator specialty you’d like to master, you can acquire multiple certifications via the International Association for Identification (IAI). Bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic art, latent print, and forensic photography are some of the credentials available.

What does a CSI do?

The majority of a forensic scientist’s job occurs in a lab. They analyze substances, including blood, hairs, textile fibers, paint, glass, explosives, and narcotics to link suspects to victims or crime scenes. Other forensic tasks include:

  • Collect evidence at criminal scenes
  • Write reports
  • Test for the presence of drugs or toxins in fluid and tissue samples
  • Analyze tire imprints
  • Use analytical techniques such as chromatography and DNA sequencing

The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences accredits several degree programs. Notwithstanding, several online forensic degrees are affordable.

Steps to Becoming a CSI

Complete High School

There are various criminal investigation programs or camps for aspiring CSIs throughout the US. For example, Point Park University in Pittsburgh offers a CSI summer camp that includes laboratory and criminal justice training. Another option is the forensic science competition that CSI Arizona sponsors. Students in the competition obtain evidence and present their conclusions to a panel of judges. An aspiring CSI can find ways to gain skills before graduating from high school with a bit of investigation.

Attend a Police Academy or Pursue a Degree

There are two common paths for aspiring CSIs. One is to enroll in a degree program, and the other is to attend a police academy. Both are excellent choices. Which choice is best for you depends upon your short and long-term career goals.

CSI hopefuls can enroll in a law enforcement academy and receive specialized CSI training on the job. To enroll in an academy, a student must be a US national, at least 18 years old, have a driver’s license, and have no felony convictions on their record.

Enrollment in a police academy can connect the student to a degree program. For example, Macomb Community Institution in Michigan collaborates with a local college’s AAS in Law Enforcement. This two-year associate’s degree curriculum teaches criminal law, investigations, computer-related crimes, laboratory procedures, first aid, and other topics. Macomb also trains students for state certification examinations for new police officers. And, the credits earned in the AAS program are transferable to bachelor’s degrees at numerous schools and institutions around Michigan.

If you don’t want to enroll in the police academy, you can enroll in a two- to four-year college degree program. Degrees in criminal justice, forensics, biology, chemistry, natural sciences, or other relevant disciplines will help you attain your goal of becoming a CSI.

CSI Certification Programs

Suppose neither the police academy nor a degree program is right for you. In that case, a certificate program might be a great option. For example, the University of Baltimore offers a one-year certificate in CSI. This curriculum includes crime scene investigation, forensic photography, and court and trial advocacy for forensics. It is designed for practicing CSIs seeking academic credentials and newcomers to the profession.

Crime Scene Investigator Internships

Internships are an excellent way to gain and sharpen CSI skills. The Central Intelligence Internship Program, the Federal Law Enforcement Internship Programs, and the United States Secret Service Internships are three of the best opportunities for world-class forensic training.

Becoming a Certified CSI

After receiving formal academic and on-the-job training, an aspiring CSI may pursue a professional certification. The requirements for becoming a CSI differ by state and law enforcement agency. There are no legal requirements for working as a crime scene investigator in most states. However, Indiana is an exception to this rule. The Indiana Law Enforcement Agency (ILEA) has certified its CSIs, requiring a minimum level of training and experience, and that they pass the CSI exam.

After 48 to 144 hours of formal field training, a CSI becomes eligible for certification through the International Association of Identification (IAI). The IAI offers certification for crime scene investigators, analysts, reconstructionist, and senior crime scene analysts.

Experts with at least two years of experience and 50 hours of crime scene processing courses can get a CSI certification from the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Candidates must pass a 100-question test and show proof of experience by submitting examples of crime scene photography.

What is a Beneficial Degree for a CSI to have?

Forensic Science Degrees

While a degree in forensics may be helpful, pursuing a graduate degree or a double major is considerably more so. Non forensics degrees offer a wide range of science-related courses with the option to take classes related to your field of interest. A writing class may be helpful because written communication skills are a vital skill for CSIs to have.

Chemistry Degrees

A degree in chemistry will prepare you for a forensic laboratory analyst or toxicologist career.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Science in Chemistry from University of North Carolina – Wilmington

Biology Degrees

You can be a DNA analyzer or a fingerprint examiner in a crime lab with a biology degree. Understanding biology will provide you with the background you’ll need to assist detectives and investigators in solving various cases.

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Physics Degrees

A forensic ballistic expert’s job relies on an in-depth knowledge of physics. A physics degree gives you the foundation you need to figure out how bullets and other projectiles travel. Physics is also an essential part of forensic engineering.

A combined biology and physics degree will prepare you to become a bloodstain pattern analyzer.

GetEducated’s Pick: Bachelor of Science in Physics from Liberty University

Engineering Degrees

Traffic collision reconstruction, electrical system failures, and structural and mechanical failures, such as bridge collapses, are all areas where forensic engineers specialize. The type of forensic work you can do is determined by the engineering degree you obtain. Civil engineering training will equip you to examine structural breakdowns. Electrical engineering will enable you to recreate failures such as electrical fires. And a bachelor’s degree in traffic engineering or mechanical engineering can prepare you for a career as a traffic crash reconstructionist.

Psychology Degrees

Forensic psychology encompasses various professions, from jury consultant to prison psychologist. All these fields require a master’s degree in psychology.

Anthropology Degrees

A degree in anthropology can lead you to a career in forensic anthropology. Forensic anthropologists study human remains both in the field and in the lab. They can determine the gender, height, weight, and age of a decayed body as well as estimate how long someone has been deceased and the cause of death.

Entomology Degrees

Entomology is the study of insects. Entomologists have specialized knowledge that assists detectives and investigators in determining critical facts in murder cases. Forensic entomologists can determine where a body was disposed of and how long ago the subject died by studying the types of insects found with the corpse.

GetEducated’s Pick: Master of Science in Entomology from University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Degrees in Medicine

Medical examiners and pathologists are among the best-paid criminology and criminal justice professionals. These people supply crucial information in complex criminal cases involving fatalities, sickness, and poisoning. Their expertise may be called upon to aid in investigating potential chemical or biological terrorist attacks.

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What is the Work Environment for this Career?

Crime scene investigators work outside and in labs and offices, depending on their specific job title. The size of their jurisdiction will determine how they might have to travel to process a crime scene. CSIs frequently collaborate with specialists and other law enforcement officers.

Pros & Cons of Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator

Pros

One of the most significant benefits of becoming a CSI is the variety of specializations available to you. Firearm experts inspect bullets to reveal the exact firearm used in a crime. DNA experts utilize human fluids and chemicals to identify criminals. Toxicologists look for chemicals in bodily fluids to help determine the cause of death. Trace evidence experts analyze fibers, hair, paint, glass, pollen, and food residue to identify case specifics. The list continues.

The feeling you get from solving a crime, identifying suspects, and delivering justice to victims and survivors is one of the intangible rewards of becoming a crime scene investigator.

Because each case is unique with evidence specific to it, the field never becomes old. Also, methods, procedures, and legislation continue to evolve, leading to a dynamic, engaging, and dynamic career.

Cons

How much and where a CSI works depends upon the case being investigated. Each case has its unique set of circumstances. Therefore, each case requires something different from CSIs. Crime scene investigators may work a standard 40-hour week or be on call or work overtime. They may work in the lab or at a crime scene location. There is no way to anticipate where or how long a CSI will work on a given day.

Crime scene investigators are exposed to risk daily. For example, they might encounter shattered glass to weapons to bodily fluids at a scene. They may test blood and other biological material for diseases. Crime scene investigators may look for chemical residue, inspect bloodied clothes, analyze blood splatter, and view victims’ bodies in various degrees of decomposition as part of their investigation.

Many of the crimes investigated by CSIs involve violence, such as murder, rape, and assault. Forensic scientists must maintain their ability to work despite the horror of a crime scene.

In addition, the often long hours might keep them away from home, resulting in physical and mental exhaustion.

What is the Average Salary?

According to Payscale, the average salary for a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) is $48,607 in 2021. Salaries ranged from $37k-$80k depending on location and experience.

Related Resource: Highest Paying Criminal Justice Careers by Education Level

Are There Opportunities for Advancement?

In the United States, there are around 15,400 forensic science technicians. Between 2016 and 2026, the job market for forensic science technicians is predicted to rise by 16.9%.

Senior technicians who want to further their careers have multiple options. They can train new crime lab analysts, become supervisors, criminal investigators, criminal justice professors, or work for private consulting firms.

Forensic science demand and employment growth are expected to outperform the national average for all occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nevertheless, due to the modest size of this occupation, rapid development will result in fewer than 4,000 employees in the United States over the next decade. The availability, reliability, and use of objective forensic information presented as evidence in trials and other criminal procedures will continue to improve as technology advances.

As a result, forensic science technicians will become more valuable. The fastest-growing and most prominent domains of forensic science are likely to be digital computer forensics and DNA specializations. The number of available roles will be influenced by federal, state, and municipal budgets, as with many occupations where government agencies employ the bulk of workers.

Conclusion

Becoming a CSI is a challenging and rewarding career. Like any career, it has its benefits and drawbacks. But if you love problem-solving and want to be challenged by new and different cases, becoming a CSI is a great career choice. And now that you know everything you need to know about becoming a Forensic and Crime Investigator, it’s time to take the next step in your career journey. Good luck, and let’s GetEducated!

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