While both certificates lead to a career in crime scene analysis, these certificates focus on different areas. Crime scene technicians learn how to observe, preserve, and transport evidence for analysis in a laboratory, while forensic technicians analyze evidence in laboratory settings after collection. Many programs includes courses on both subjects.
Crime scenes are critical environments for investigators trying to find and build cases against suspects; even the smallest trace evidence could provide a lead and must be handled with care. In recent years, there has been a growing need for crime scene investigators, crime scene technicians, and crime analysts who have education and experience analyzing crimes and crime trends to help law enforcement gather evidence that can be used to solve and prosecute cases. One way to get into the field is with a crime scene technician certificate or crime scene investigation degree, or a research-based degree in crime analysis. These programs are offered at many levels; some jobs require only a high school diploma, while others require undergraduate study. The job outlook is good as crime scene technicians earn a median salary of $57,850 and positions are projected to grow 17% through 2026.1
Did you know? Crime scene technicians often specialize in analyzing a specific type of evidence such as DNA or firearms and explosives.
Crime Scene Investigator Training and Courses
Crime scene investigation certificate programs focus on building the skills needed to get an entry-level job with a local or county law enforcement agency. University programs, offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, teach students more advanced techniques and prepare students for senior positions. Certificate programs in crime scene technology may require prospective students to have an associate’s degree or some college experience. There are also bachelor’s programs in crime scene investigation; graduate certificate programs in this field will require a bachelor’s degree. Unlike four-year programs that also include theory courses, all of the courses in a certificate curriculum tend to focus on real-world job skills. Programs will include coursework on how to properly process a crime scene, including establishing chains of custody for evidence, identifying potential materials for analysis, and taking crime scene photos. Crime scene investigators must have a keen eye for detail and patience as the job has a high degree of unpredictability.
Students studying crime analysis are taught the theories and principles of intelligence-led policing, including how to analyze trends in data using computer applications and using pattern identification to see the bigger picture in statistics. Students on track to receive a crime analysis degree are focused on using statistics from various sources to compile accurate information and patterns to support law enforcement decisions.
Common courses in a crime investigation or analysis program include:
- Crime Scene Safety
- Identifying Evidence
- Crime Scene Photography
- Tread and Foot Impressions
- Criminological Theory
- Weapon and Tool Marks
- Behavioral Analysis
- Advanced Casting Techniques
- Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis
- DNA Evidence
- Courtroom Testimony
Traditional Crime Scene Investigator Degree Programs
St. Petersburg College offers several levels of training for aspiring crime scene technicians. The Crime Scene Technology Certificate is a 28-credit program teaching the foundations of crime scene analysis, including preservation of biological evidence and fingerprints. After completing this program, students can look for work as an entry-level technician or apply these credits towards an Associate of Science in Crime Scene Technology. In the associate’s program, students spend time analyzing mock crime scenes and preparing for moot trials. The curriculum includes 60 to 63 credits of study and enables students to focus on particular types of crime scene investigation. Students can also complete an optional internship with a local law enforcement agency. Additionally, the college offers a bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Administration fully online to teach students how to apply their learning to leadership roles.
The Crime Scene Investigation certificate program at the University of Baltimore is open to students who have at least 60 transfer credits of previous study. This coursework must include an upper-level course in criminal justice, though this can be waived if the student has law enforcement experience. The program curriculum includes 12 credits of targeted study in Crime Scene Investigation, Advanced Crime Scene Investigation, Forensic Photography, and Moot Court and Trial Advocacy for Forensics to help students prepare for a career in this area or change career paths. The program takes approximately one year to complete and students benefit from hands-on learning at the university’s Jami R. Grant Forensic Laboratories, which operate in partnership with the Baltimore Police Department. The laboratory introduces students to a variety of crime scenes and investigation techniques.
West Virginia University offers a Master of Science degree in Forensic and Investigative Science for individuals who already have an undergraduate degree in a related area of study with prerequisites in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus. The graduate degree curriculum is comprised of 40 credit hours, which includes a significant research component. Each student must complete a six-credit thesis or research project involving advanced chemistry or biology research on a topic related to forensic analysis. Students also have access to 18,000 square feet of forensic laboratories to practice all areas of crime scene investigation, including fingerprints, tool marks, and trace evidence. West Virginia University’s Department of Forensic and Investigative Science is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, which awards programs accreditation for meeting rigorous scientific standards.
Online Crime Scene Investigator Degree Programs
Purdue University Global offers an online Crime Scene Technician Certificate that explores the analytical processes and procedures used by crime scene technicians. The online certificate requires 41 credits in total. Courses are offered in a 10-week format. Applicants to the program must already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the criminal justice field or demonstrate proof of work experience in the previous 18 months in law enforcement, the military, or an associated area of criminal justice. Students complete required courses such as Criminal Investigation, Supervisory Practices in Criminal Justice, Forensic Fingerprint Analysis, and Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence Analysis. The curriculum prepares students to document, collect, and preserve details from the crime scene in addition to giving expert testimony about evidence in criminal court cases. Some class credit from the certificate curriculum may be eligible for transfer to a Purdue associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. Purdue University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Saint Joseph’s University offers an online master’s degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Intelligence and Crime Analysis. The degree trains students to understand and interpret research, identify crime trends, and plan strategically within law enforcement operations. Key skills learned in the program include writing, conducting and critically examining research, and statistical analysis. This program helps students prepare for careers in many levels of government. The curriculum includes 30 credits, including four required criminal justice core courses, two required crime analysis courses, and four elective courses. Applicants are admitted from a variety of educational backgrounds, including law enforcement, criminal justice, history, political science, policy, and psychology. Students can try the university’s online learning environment before registering in the course through the university’s Test Flight online learning platform.
A graduate-level study option is the Master’s in Forensic Studies with a concentration in Investigations offered by Stevenson University. Students must have a bachelor’s degree (in any subject) to apply. The curriculum includes 36 credit hours of study and focuses on gathering and analyzing testimony and providing expert testimony in criminal proceedings. Courses include Forensic Information Technology, Investigative Techniques/Physical Evidence, and White Collar Crime. The majority of coursework can be completed online with the exception of the Mock Trial Capstone, which requires a one-week, on-campus residency. Students can also choose to complete the Mock Trial Capstone on campus during a 16-week placement. Stevenson University students benefit from the university’s Center for Forensic Excellence, which brings together scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students to discuss the latest forensic issues.
Crime Scene Technician Job Description
Obtaining your crime scene technician or investigation certificate can lead to a variety of positions within the investigative community, such as with police departments, various levels of government, or in the criminal justice system. Typically, crime scene investigators gather evidence to help develop and support criminal cases and part of the job description can include testifying in court about the scientific analysis performed and how it relates to a case. In that respect, certificate holders will learn how to accurately and clearly describe their techniques for lay audiences, as well as how to explain specific results. Certificates that combine crime scene investigation with forensics can also lead to lab work analyzing blood or other fluid samples for DNA matches, doing chromatographic analyses to find out where certain items originated, or other duties.
Crime analysts are usually hired by larger police departments, particularly those at the state and federal levels, and these jobs commonly require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level employment. Crime analysis degree graduates are likely to move up within the ranks because of their advanced training, although they must still follow the patterns of advancement, including exams for rank. With education and experience, crime analysis degree holders may have wider latitude to move between departments, as well as into other agencies within the criminal justice field.
Examples of careers that can be pursued by crime scene investigation graduates include:
- Blood Spatter Analyst
- Criminal Investigator
- Corrections Officer
- Crime Lab Analyst
- Crime Scene Investigator
- Criminal Investigator
- Fire Investigator
- Forensic Science Technician
- Private Investigator
- State Trooper
Crime Scene Technician Professional Certification
There is no mandatory national professional certification for crime scene investigators and crime analysts, although some professional organizations do offer voluntary certification programs. One of these is the International Crime Scene Investigation Association, which offers a Forensic Crime Scene Investigator’s Certification. The International Association for Identification also offers a Crime Scene Certification. Depending on the hiring agency, prospective investigators and analysts may need to be sworn law enforcement officers. Check job descriptions for any necessary requirements.
Crime Scene Investigator Salary and Career Outlook
The job growth outlook is favorable for forensic science careers, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 17% growth through 2026.1 In 2017, the median salary for forensic science technicians was $57,850 per year.1 The BLS groups together crime analysts, police identification and records officers (another term for entry-level crime scene technicians), and detectives and criminal investigators, who together earned a mean salary of $79,970 as of 2017.2,3,4
- International Association for Identification: An international forensic science association connecting professionals from all areas of specialization, including crime scene investigation.
- International Association of Crime Analysts: An international association offering voluntary certification and networking opportunities.
- International Crime Scene Investigators Association: A professional association for law enforcement officers working in the area of crime scene investigation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a crime scene technician certificate and a forensic technician certificate?
Do I need an undergraduate degree to become a crime analyst?
An undergraduate degree is usually required to begin a career in crime analysis. In order to progress in the field, a graduate degree may be advantageous or even required.
Can I earn a crime scene technician certificate online?
Yes, some online programs are offered; however, traditional, on-campus programs offer students opportunities to experience mock crime scenes and evidence gathering in-person.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forensic Science Technicians: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm
2. O*NET OnLine, Police Identification and Records Officers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.02
3. O*NET OnLine, Criminal Investigators and Special Agents: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
4. O*NET OnLine, Intelligence Analysts: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.06
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