When a crime is committed, a crime scene investigation (CSI) team is called into action. CSI careers can 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 in the field of crime scene investigation should continue to grow in the coming years. The expanding population will help drive demand for law enforcement personnel, including CSI professionals, who may see stronger job opportunities in areas such as DNA analysis and computer forensics.
Individuals working in CSI careers fulfill a wide variety of job responsibilities according to the specific position and law enforcement agency. These can include:
Crime scene analysts work with police departments and other agencies to process and reconstruct crime scenes. Their work often involves: evidence collection, evaluation and preservation; fingerprint examination; crime scene photography; and analysis of physical evidence. Crime scene analysts may also take measurements to produce scale drawings and are required to keep accurate records of all findings.
Crime laboratory analysts conduct technical and scientific testing, gather data and document results. They use 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 can 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 and compare handwriting, printing, fingerprints, and foot and palm imprints for identification purposes. Criminalists are also called upon to identify bullet fragments and casings, and residues to help determine the use of firearms in crimes. They may examine physiological evidence, such as bloodstains, to help solve a crime.
Forensic scientists work in laboratories and oversee a variety of tests. These CSI specialists may be 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 for the presence of specific substances, including through the use of infrared and ultraviolet light. Forensic scientists 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 testing 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, while others work mostly in a lab setting. Still others may divide their time among crime scenes, a lab and an office.
Potential salaries vary by agency, location and specific CSI job description. For example, as of May 2013, forensic science technicians nationwide earned an average salary of $57,340 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recent bachelor’s degree graduates will generally start out at the lower end of the scale and can advance their career with further experience and education.
Prospective students are encouraged to conduct their own research as regional market conditions, and a candidate’s work experience and educational qualifications can affect salary potential and employment opportunities.
CSI jobs typically call for 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 in biology, chemistry or forensics.
The path to a CSI career can begin with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Coursework typically includes criminal justice theories and research methods. Graduates of a criminal justice program should be able to:
Some employers offer opportunities for continuing education, making it possible for individuals to attain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree and use tuition assistance to further their education.
Pursuing a CSI career such as crime scene analyst, crime laboratory analyst, criminalist or forensic scientist requires abilities ranging from analyzing evidence to maintaining composure during courtroom cross-examinations. Sharp written and verbal communication skills, analytical thinking and detail-oriented work habits are also important attributes in this field. If you’re fascinated by solving mysteries and hope to work in law enforcement, then a CSI career could be an excellent choice. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can provide a solid foundation for these exciting and rewarding careers.