Crime Scene Investigator: Career Guide
The primary responsibility of crime scene investigators (CSIs) is to investigate crimes by carefully collecting and analyzing physical evidence. They may collect hair, tissue, and body fluids from a crime victim, or perform tests on items found at a crime scene. In short, they analyze all of the evidence in the interest of providing accurate information that may help to acquit or to convict a person of a crime.
CSIs must be meticulous about details, as well as know how to properly collect and store the evidence they collect. They must be able to prepare forms, reports, and other written documentation about their findings. CSIs are often asked to testify at criminal trials, giving testimony about the physical evidence collected and offering their general expertise about forensic evidence. Real-life and fictionalized crime shows on television have led to an increased interest in forensic science, which can be expected to lead to a more competitive job market for crime scene investigators. Many types of organizations hire crime scene investigators, including coroner’s offices, crime laboratories, and police departments.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Crime scene investigators work at crime scenes, collecting and processing evidence then analyzing it and sharing the results in a written report. CSIs complete a variety of tasks, including deciding what evidence should be collected, gathering physical evidence, and securing the evidence for the crime laboratory. In addition, a CSI may photograph evidence, create a drawing of the crime scene, and write down detailed information about the crime scene itself.
Steps for Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator
Candidates interested in becoming a CSI must typically possess a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or an area of science, such as biology or chemistry. Some agencies do not require a degree, so check with the job description of your targeted position. To become a crime scene investigator, you can expect to follow steps similar to the ones below.
- Attend a degree program or gain experience in a related field.*
- Apply for an open crime scene investigator job.
- Undergo a background investigation and be fingerprinted.
- Be interviewed.
- Get hired as a crime scene investigator.
- Receive on-the-job training once hired.
*A degree and prior experience may not be required to become a crime scene investigator, so check the particular details of the job for which you are applying.
Crime Scene Investigator Job Training
CSIs generally go through on-the-job training once they have been hired. A rookie CSI will typically work with an experienced CSI. As an assistant, the newly-hired CSI will learn how to properly process a crime scene. Training may include photography, death scene processing, fingerprint processing, and blood spatter analysis. Because of the constant technical advances in forensic science, CSIs should be prepared to engage in continuing education to remain apprised of the latest equipment and techniques in the industry.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Crime scene investigators generally first work for law enforcement as police officers, detectives, or criminal investigators before applying for a position as a CSI. CSIs must have strong computer skills and communication skills, and they must work well with others. Those seeking crime scene investigation jobs should be aware that they will be responsible for overseeing disturbing crime scenes, including homicides and sexual assaults. They should have the professional disposition required to adequately deal with such stressful environments. CSIs must be in good health and physically fit, as they often must kneel, reach, climb, stretch, and carry heavy objects to process a crime scene. Occasionally, CSIs may carry a firearm.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Crime Scene Analyst (CSA)
- Crime Scene Technician (CST)
- Evidence Technician (ET)
- Forensic Investigator (FI)
- Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO)
Crime Scene Investigator Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of 2018, detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual salary of $81,920.1 Salary can vary depending on factors such as education, experience, and geographic location. Nationwide, employment for crime scene investigators (who are classed with police and detectives by the BLS) is expected to grow 7% from 2016 to 2026.2 The BLS cautions that average growth combined with an increased interest in forensic science will result in greater competition for open positions.
Interested in a career similar to crime scene investigation? Check out these related careers:
- Blood Spatter Analyst
- Computer Forensics Investigator
- Crime Lab Analyst
- Forensic Accountant
- Forensic Anthropologist
- Forensic Ballistics Expert
- Forensic Nursing
- Forensic Psychologist
- Forensic Science Technician
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What type of hours do CSIs typically work?
Answer: CSIs, who work in the field, generally work longer than a 40-hour work week and should be prepared to work whenever necessary, including nights and weekends. CSIs are typically assigned to a specific jurisdiction but should be prepared to travel to crime scenes when called.
Question: What are the most important qualities of a CSI?
Answer: CSIs have the crucial task of collecting evidence at a crime scene and will often be called to testify in court on their findings. As a result, a successful CSI will have strong communication skills, be detail oriented, and possess the ability to work with others. A CSI must be able to remain professional, despite the gruesome scenes they may see.
Question: With whom do CSIs work?
Answer: CSIs work with a range of people, including attorneys and law enforcement. CSIs should be team players as most work is done within groups.
- International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSI): How to Become a CSI
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018, Detectives and Criminal Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm