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Crime Laboratory Technician Job Description, Career as a Crime Laboratory Technician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Two-year or four-year college

Salary Median—$21.16 per hour

Employment Outlook Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Crime laboratory technicians, also called forensic science technicians or police science technicians, help solve crimes. They use scientific laboratory methods to analyze evidence found at crime scenes or accidents. Their findings often determine the guilt of criminals or the innocence of those falsely accused.

Crime lab technicians work closely with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and with state and local police officers. Sometimes the evidence from crime scenes is collected by detectives or other police officers and delivered to the crime laboratory. At other times technicians gather the evidence themselves.

Crime lab technicians usually specialize. Ballistics technicians examine bullets and match them to guns. Chemical and physical analysis technicians may examine a chip of paint from an automobile or a piece of glass found in a victim's clothes. They also examine hair, soil, blood, narcotics, biological tissues and fluids, and poisons. Often, they specialize in DNA analysis. Documents technicians analyze handwriting on blackmail notes and anonymous letters, as well as the paper on which the handwriting exists. Instruments technicians match marks found on victims to the tools thought to have been used by the suspects, such as crowbars or rocks. Fingerprint technicians analyze fingerprints, footprints, and tire treads, while photography technicians take pictures of crime scenes. Polygraph technicians give lie detector tests and interpret the results.

Technicians use many kinds of equipment, including microscopes, infrared photography, ultraviolet light, X-ray machines, and spectrographs. The machinery enlarges tiny fragments, discovers hidden stains, or reveals the history of victims' lives—even their dental work. Most technicians have some knowledge of all the tools used in the lab.

A crime laboratory technician uses a scientific laboratory method to dust for fingerprints at the scene of a crime. This evidence may be used by FBI agents or police officers to solve the crime. (© Ed Kashi/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

Many crime laboratories now require bachelor's degrees in forensic science or crime technology, which cover scientific crime detection, investigative photography, fingerprint science, criminal investigation and evidence, criminal law, and court procedures. There are several well-regarded two-year programs in the field, but the trend is toward more advanced courses of study. High school courses that are good preparation for this kind of work include mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to any police department that has a crime laboratory. College placement offices and state employment offices may have information about job openings. Many employers prefer to hire those who have taken civil service tests.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Crime lab technicians advance by taking civil service examinations that require knowledge of the newest techniques in the field. They can advance through several ranks to supervisory positions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Polygraph Association
PO Box 8037
Chattanooga, TN 37414-0037
(800) 272-8037

Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction
PO Box 51376
Phoenix, AZ 85076-1376

Evidence Photographers International Council
600 Main St.
Honesdale, PA 18431
(800) 356-3742

International Crime Scene Investigators Association
PMB 385
15774 S. LaGrange Rd.
Orland Park, IL 60462
(708) 460-8082

The number of jobs for crime laboratory technicians is expected to increase faster than the average for all jobs through 2014. Job seekers with four-year degrees in forensic science will have more opportunities than those with two-year degrees.

Working Conditions

Technicians' work is precise and methodical, and their labs are usually clean, well-lit places to work. They get satisfaction from preparing scientific evidence for court cases and in knowing that their work brings criminals to justice. Sometimes technicians present the evidence in court themselves.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries of crime lab technicians vary with the employer and the workers' experience. In 2004 the median salary for all crime lab technicians was $21.16 per hour. Salaries increase when technicians advance from one civil service rank to another. Health and life insurance, paid vacations, holidays, and sick leave are provided by all law enforcement agencies that employ crime lab technicians.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service