Crime scene investigators are essential members of any law enforcement agency. These highly qualified professionals collect and analyze evidence left at crime scenes like fingerprints, digital devices or recordings, and DNA evidence. These materials are transported to a forensic laboratory where they are analyzed using cutting edge technology like genomic sequencers, fingerprint reconstructive tools and recovery software.
Once the evidence has been processed, conclusions are then communicated to the investigators in charge of the case who utilize the information to track down perpetrators. In many cases, CSI professionals may be called upon to examine multiple scenes during the course of an investigation. They may also be asked to collect samples from a suspect’s person, car or residence.
Once an arrest has been made and the case has gone to trial, CSIs are often required to testify in court. Their scientific testimony is often necessary to convince the jury that a suspect is indeed the perpetrator of the crime. In order to provide this type of incriminatory evidence, the forensic procedures utilized throughout the investigation must be impeccable.
Crime Scene Investigator Job Description
Crime scene investigators jobs involve being responsible for the following duties:
- Collect and preserve evidence
- Maintain detailed logs of evidence processes
- Transfer fingerprints to permanent media and compare to databases
- Take detailed and measured photographs of crime scenes
- Reconstruct criminal activity
- Produce reports describing analysis results, conclusions and recommendations
- Properly operate and maintain analytical equipment
- Recover digital evidence from broken, burned or partially damaged media and digital devices
- Instruct officers and others in the appropriate management of a crime scene
- Testify in court about the evidence pipeline
How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator
Most law enforcement agencies require a bachelor’s degree in a field related to forensic science or law enforcement when considering candidates for crime scene investigator jobs, although some smaller agencies may only require an associate’s degree or less.
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
Degree fields in the following areas provide the greatest competitive advantage in the hiring process:
- Crime scene investigations
- Forensic science
- Criminal justice
- Cyber crime
- Forensic psychology
- Criminal investigations
Prospective crime scene investigators seeking jobs with prestigious organizations like the New York Police Department or the FBI are advised to obtain at least a master’s degree in one of these fields. An advanced degree is essential for consideration with highly reputable organizations and will speed the promotion process.
CSI professionals may also serve in civilian jobs or as commissioned officers. Each law enforcement agency has specific requirements for hiring, but most require the following minimum qualifications:
- U.S. citizenship
- No felony convictions or domestic violence convictions
- Be 21 years or older
Many police departments also will require limited or no drug use, exceptional physical condition, and unimpeachable moral character.
Crime Scene Investigator Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the annual salary for crime scene investigators in 2010 was $51,570. The number of crime scene investigators is expected to grow by 2,400 or 19 percent between 2010 and 2020.