When a crime is committed, a crime scene investigation (CSI) team is called into action. CSI careers include a variety of critical roles, such as crime scene analyst, crime laboratory analyst, criminalist and forensic scientist. One way to embark on the road to a CSI career is by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of police identification and records officers – including crime scene investigators – will experience strong growth in coming years. The expanding population will lead to increased demand for law enforcement personnel, including CSI professionals.
Individuals working in CSI careers fulfill a wide variety of job responsibilities that vary according to their position. For example, crime scene analysts work with police departments to processes and reconstruct crime scenes. Their work often involves evidence collection, evaluation and preservation; fingerprint examination; crime scene photography; and analysis of physical evidence, including human tissue and fluids. Crime scene analysts may also take measurements to produce scale drawings. They are required to keep accurate records of all findings.
Crime laboratory analysts conduct technical and scientific examinations, gather data and document results. They use highly technical procedures, processes and equipment to identify and analyze various types of physical evidence collected from a crime scene, and they must take great care in the handling, packaging and preserving of evidence. Other duties of crime laboratory analysts include conducting forensic science experiments, analyzing results, formulating conclusions and presenting findings verbally or in writing. In addition, these CSI specialists are often called as expert witnesses during court proceedings.
Criminalists also play an important role on the CSI team. They may analyze body tissues to determine the presence of drugs, alcohol or poisons; often, they analyze and compare handwriting, printing, typewriting, fingerprints, and foot and palm imprints for identification purposes. Criminalists are also called upon to identify tool marks, fired bullets, cartridge cases and residues to help determine the use of firearms in crimes. They may examine body fluids and physiological evidence, like bloodstains, to help solve a crime.
Forensic scientists work in laboratories and oversee a variety of tests. These CSI specialists are responsible for the identification and classification of biological and physical substances, materials, mechanical devices, liquids and other physical evidence. Their work often involves determining the chemical composition of materials and testing objects or human tissues and fluids for the presence of specific substances, using microphotography, spectophotometry, infrared and ultraviolet light, or spectroscopy. Forensic scientists sometimes work in the field at the scene of a crime; they may reconstruct a crime scene by using plaster casts to preserve footprints or tire tracks. They may also be required to testify in court regarding test results of evidence collected from a crime scene.
The work environment for professionals in CSI careers varies according to their position. Some CSI specialists work in the field, reporting for duty wherever crimes occur. At times, they may be subjected to severe weather conditions. Other CSI tem members work mostly in a laboratory setting, or may divide their time between crime scenes, a lab and an office. Depending on the job, travel may be an occasional or frequent requirement. Work hours vary, but most CSI jobs require 40 hours a week, which may include flexible and on-call hours.
Potential salaries vary by agency, location and specific CSI job description. According to national salary data on PayScale.com, CSI specialists had average salaries in the following ranges as of October 2010:
Recent bachelor’s degree graduates will generally start out at the lower end of the scale and work their way up with further experience and education.
Most CSI jobs require a bachelor’s degree, along with some work experience. Some employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree. Experience may be acquired through internships, law enforcement work or military service. Certain positions may require a background or courses in biology, chemistry or forensics.
The path to a CSI career can begin with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Coursework typically includes scientific and technical communications, introduction to criminal justice, criminology and research methods in criminal justice.
Employers can be confident that graduates of a criminal justice program are able to:
Many employers offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree and use tuition assistance to further your education.
Pursuing an exciting CSI career such as crime scene analyst, crime laboratory analyst, criminalist or forensic scientist requires abilities ranging from analyzing evidence to maintaining composure under trial cross-examination. Sharp written and verbal communication skills, analytical thinking and detail-oriented work habits are also vital to success in this field. If you find solving mysteries exciting and the idea of working in law enforcement appeals to you, then a CSI career could be an excellent choice. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can put you on track to a challenging and rewarding CSI position!