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Crime Scene Investigator, CSI

Education and Training: Bachelor’s degree preferred
Average Salary: $50,300
Job Outlook: Very good

Crime scene investigators, also known as CSIs, forensic science technicians, or evidence technicians are playing an increasingly important role in law enforcement, as there are more science-based ways of finding and documenting evidence, as well as tying evidence to suspects. CSIs have different roles, depending on their department and agency. Many work on the scene in the actual collection of evidence, but others may only work behind the scenes to analyze evidence in the lab.

In most instances, CSIs will spend at least some time at the crime scene, normally working with the lead investigator on a case to ensure that all evidence is collected. The CSI is most likely responsible for documenting evidence through photography, scans, impressions, and other methods. They may also identify fingerprints, DNA, footwear, tire marks, and other potentially telling evidence. In a murder investigation the crime scene investigator is also responsible for attending the autopsy to see what the pathologist has to note about the body, and they may also assist in collecting physical evidence from the body.

On a legal note, the crime scene investigator must secure the chain of custody for evidence and ensure that everything is documented as required by law. CSIs maintain their equipment, give evidence to lead investigators and attorneys, and may also stand at trial to present certain evidence.

Education and Training Requirements

Different levels of training and education are required in different law enforcement agencies, but most agencies these days require at least a two year degree in a related field. Larger agencies will require a bachelor’s degree in a science, criminal justice, or forensics related field, as well as, most likely, on the job training.

In some areas, CSIs must also undergo police training and become sworn officers before they can take on their duties as a CSI. This isn’t always the case, especially with CSIs that work primarily in a lab setting, but you’d have to check locally to see what the requirements were in a particular area.

Getting the Job

To become a sworn police officer and a CSI, one should first become a police officer through a local agency and then apply for a CSI position. Civilian CSIs may be able to apply directly for a lower-level position as long as they have a degree in forensic science or something related.

Each law enforcement agency will have its own requirements for becoming a CSI, so it’s important to check with the agency you’re interested in working for to see what their requirements are.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Because criminal cases are being based more and more on scientific evidence, such as DNA, crime scene investigator jobs are on the rise. Many are very specialized positions where the CSI will work with a particular kind of evidence, but others are more comprehensive. Many state and local governments are looking for educated, experienced investigators to help identify criminals and even prevent further crime by using forensic science.

A CSI may go on to become a lead crime scene investigator in his or her law enforcement precinct or to move from the local to the national level with crime scene investigation. Some CSIs also move into management positions in a lab or police station setting.

Working Conditions and Environment

CSIs often work long, random hours, and if they’re responsible for gathering crime scene evidence will be on call at all hours of the day and night most of the time. This can be a stressful job, particularly when there are several cases going on at once. Most CSIs do a combination of in-field work and lab work, though a few may simply process evidence in a lab setting.

Salary and Benefits

The average crime scene investigator makes between $25,000 and $55,000 a year, depending on where they work and how educated they are. The average salary is $50,300, and the highest paid CSIs make about $76,400 per year. The highest paid CSIs include those with the title Latent Print Technician, Criminalist, and Crime Scene Technician.

Typically, a CSI is hired as a full-time employee and will get paid vacation and sick days as well as health benefits.

Where to Go for More Information

American Academy of Forensic Sciences
410 N. 21st St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80904

High Technology Crime Investigation Association
3288 Goldstone Drive
Roseville, CA 95747
(916) 408-1751

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