Learn About Being a Crime Scene Investigator
What does a crime scene investigator do?
A crime scene investigator is a law enforcement team member who manages the physical evidence found at the location of a crime. When a crime occurs, the investigator must travel to the scene to identify, collect, package and preserve evidence, which is then passed on to the forensic team to be tested and examined. Some crime scene investigators work in forensic labs to perform the testing processes, although most perform the majority of their work at crime scenes. Duties of a crime scene investigator include:
- Working with other members of law enforcement to secure crime scenes
- Identifying and marking crime scenes
- Preserving, collecting and packaging evidence found at crime scenes
- Repairing and maintaining equipment needed for evidence collection
- Creating and maintaining logs, reports and other tracking data
- Testifying in court regarding evidence collected
- Transporting evidence to forensic laboratories
- Communicating findings to forensic scientists and law enforcement professionals
The salary for a crime scene investigator depends on experience, education and location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
- Common salary in the U.S.: $81,463 per year
- Some salaries range from $14,000 to $153,000 per year.
Crime scene investigator requirements
A crime scene investigator must complete certain educational and training requirements to work in this role:
In most areas, a crime scene investigator must hold a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, chemistry or biology. Some law enforcement agencies accept an associate’s degree or may not require crime scene investigators to hold degrees, so you should research requirements in your area.
Since crime scene investigators are heavily involved with law enforcement and are often on crime scenes, they must be able to pass a background check. Upon being hired, crime scene investigators receive on-the-job training from others in the law enforcement agency to learn how to properly process a crime scene. Training often includes death scene processing, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint processing and photography.
Crime scene investigators must also have continuing education throughout their careers. Technical and scientific advancements in the forensic science industry are important for investigators to learn and understand so they can properly apply them when assessing and processing crime scenes. Continuing education may also allow investigators to stay current with the latest techniques and equipment used for processing all types of scenes.
Crime scene investigators can apply for several certifications in this industry to improve their employability. All certifications require applicants to have at least a year of experience processing crime scenes before they can apply. The most common certifications include:
Crime Scene Investigator Certification
This certification is offered by the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA. To obtain this certification, a crime scene investigator must have at least two years of experience processing crime scenes for a law enforcement agency, such as a state or municipal police department, county sheriff’s office or other related law enforcement agency. Candidates must also complete at least 50 hours of related post-secondary courses, pass a 100-question written exam administered by the ICSIA, pass a paper processing test that handles the protocols of a faux crime scene, provide photos of a night crime scene being processed in the dark, provide digital photos of a macro photography assessment and provide proof of experience processing outdoor, indoor and motor vehicle crime scenes.
Certified Crime Scene Investigator
The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers this certification. It is the world’s largest forensic association. To become a certified crime scene investigator, an applicant must have at least one year of experience, complete at least 48 hours of board-approved education within the previous five years and pass a test.
Certified Crime Scene Analyst
To obtain this certification from the IAI, an applicant must have at least three years of experience, complete at least 96 hours of board-approved education in the last five years and pass a test.
Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst
To obtain this certification from the IAI, an applicant must have at least six years of experience, complete at least 144 hours of board-approved education in the last five years, write or co-write an article, present to a professional organization, work as an active CSI instructor or provide transcription from court testimony and pass a test.
Certified Crime Scene Reconstructionist
To obtain this certification from the IAI, an applicant must have at least five years of experience in crime scene reconstruction, complete at least 120 hours of board-approved education related to crime scene reconstruction in the last five years and pass a test.
Certified Criminal Investigator
This certification is offered through the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, an independent professional association. Applicants must pass a test that assesses their proficiency in managing evidence, trials, psychological autopsies, crime scene investigation, history of forensic science, digital forensics, evidence, cyber predators, homicide, death investigations and other types of investigations. Applicants must also be 21 years or older, hold an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, have at least seven years of experience in the field and have no felony convictions on their legal records.
Crime scene investigators need a variety of hard and soft skills to succeed in this role:
The ability to cope with difficult situations: Since crime scenes are often gruesome and can be emotionally upsetting, an investigator must be able to handle constant exposure to these types of situations.
Observation and attention to detail: When investigating a crime scene, evidence can be hard to find, so the ability to observe everything and pay close attention to detail is necessary.
Work independently and as part of a team: Crime scene investigators often work on crime scenes independently as they obtain evidence while also working as part of a larger law enforcement team to solve crimes and bring justice to victims.
Open to learning new skills and techniques: Technology is constantly changing the way crime scene investigators handle and process evidence, so the ability and desire to continue learning throughout your career is important.
Oral and written communication skills: Crime scene investigators may need to communicate with witnesses, other members of law enforcement and others involved in crimes. They may also need to document their findings, so both written and oral communication skills are crucial.
Organization: To make sure evidence is properly collected, stored and processed, an investigator must be organized and able to handle critical items. Some investigators are responsible for delivering evidence to forensic labs for further testing.
Crime scene investigator work environment
A crime scene investigator must be prepared to work whenever and wherever a crime occurs. This often means working late at night or early in the morning, as many crimes take place when it is dark. When working on the scene, an investigator will stand, crouch and bend as they assess and process the crime scene and collect evidence. When reporting on their findings, an investigator will generally sit at a computer to create logs and other documentation.
Some of the most commonly used equipment for crime scene investigation includes kits designed to collect blood and bloodstains, fingerprints, impressions and trace evidence. An investigator may also need to use equipment for excavation or explosives.
How to become a crime scene investigator
Earn a bachelor’s degree. Most law enforcement agencies require crime scene investigators to hold bachelor’s degrees in forensic science, chemistry or biology. Some will accept applicants with associate’s degrees.
Pass a background check. A crime scene investigator typically cannot have any felonies on their record and must be able to pass an extensive background check.
Gain relevant experience. Begin your crime scene investigator career by pursuing internships, assistantships, part-time or entry-level positions to obtain field hours.
Gain certification. With several certification options available, crime scene investigators can choose which option is best suited to their professional experience and desires. Each certification requires at least a year of experience, along with the ability to pass an exam.
Create a resume. When applying for any type of position, you need a current resume that outlines your relevant experience and skills. A resume should also highlight your highest level of education and achievements.
Crime scene investigator job description example
Jefferson City Police Department is seeking a crime scene investigator to join the law enforcement team. In this role, the investigator will process and secure crime scenes within the city limits, collect, preserve and examine evidence, prepare reports, operate equipment and testify in court as needed. Additional responsibilities include documenting evidence and crime scenes, understanding and adhering to protocols, ensuring that crime scenes are secured properly to prevent tampering and contamination and handling biological evidence.
Qualified applicants will have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, forensic science or a related field, as well as strong problem-solving, critical-thinking, communication and organizational skills.
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