What does it take to become a Crime Scene Investigator?

Criminal Justice Articles

What does it take to become a Crime Scene Investigator?

The popular television show CSI and its spin-offs have sparked the imagination of the public for years and spurred many young adults into investigating a career path as a crime scene investigator (CSI). When a crime occurs, CSIs are called to the scene to collect evidence. This evidence is passed to forensic scientists in a lab for testing and processing, with the results returned to the CSIs for assessment.

The primary job of the CSI after getting back the evaluated evidence is to interpret the data and recreate the scene in order to find more clues into the crime which may lead to the capture of suspects. The information and evidence a crime scene investigator collects aids the police and other law enforcement officials in tracking down criminals. If you are considering a career as a crime scene investigator you may need the proper education and training in both law and scientific disciplines.

Education Requirements

Many crime scene investigators are police officers. Becoming a CSI requires a good foundation of education, typically a two year Associate Degree or four year Bachelor's Degree. Each criminal justice organization will be different and it is important to see what requirements the organization you want to work with requires. A two- or four-year degree in forensic science is optimal; however, a criminal justice degree or a science degree is acceptable as well. A criminal justice degree will delve into such areas as psychology, crime scene investigation methods, study of crime cases, safety techniques, and general law enforcement measures. Science degrees that would be helpful in becoming a CSI include chemistry, biology, and physical science.

There are a number of courses that can greatly help in crime scene investigation as they enhance your interpretation and analysis of data, as well as deductive reasoning. Statistics, calculus, botany, abnormal psychology, and genetics will provide a well-rounded education. Good writing and communication skills are essential because crime scene investigators are required to submit reports and testify in court. Therefore, speech communication and technical writing courses may also be beneficial.

On the Job Training

While working on your degree, you might consider applying to different law enforcement agencies for an internship in their crime scene investigation department. While some internships either pay minimum wage or not at all, the experience would be invaluable. Not only would you get to personally experience the investigative process hands-on but the contacts and references you gain will help you once you graduate and start the job hunt.

Consider a Specialty

Crime scene investigators are not all created equal. There are a number of subspecialties to consider when moving forward on the path to become a CSI. A toxicologist works primarily in the lab studying evidence to detect the presence of toxic substances while a crime scene technician or analyst is primarily in the field at an actual crime site collecting evidence for lab testing and analysis. A firearms technician is proficient in identifying firearms as well as testing bullets and other weapons. Fingerprint technicians, DNA or trace analysts, and forensic photographers are additional crime scene investigator positions.

Keep in mind that specializing in a certain area may require additional education such as a Master's Degree or even a medical degree. While you are still in college, consider these subspecialties and take the appropriate courses to help you achieve your intended CSI goal.

What Employers Look For

Internships and hands-on training are invaluable when seeking a job as a crime scene investigator. Highlight them on your resume along with pertinent references, awards, and specialized courses or workshops. Having intimate knowledge of the community the CSI position will serve is important as well.

Anticipate questions about expectations on a typical work week for a crime scene investigator. There is no normal 9 to 5 schedule. You can expect to be called to crime scenes at all hours of the day and night. Employers want to feel secure, that if hired, you would not quit due to odd working hours and crazy schedules.

The situations crime scene investigators are exposed to can shake even the strongest person. Therefore it is important to anticipate the worst cases possible, from rapes to hate crimes to the murder of little children. An employer may request psychological evaluations first to determine your ability to handle these tough situations.

You may discover that educational requirements will vary from position to position when seeking a CSI career. Most governmental agencies that hire crime scene investigators do prefer someone who is a police officer so consider this possibility when mapping out your education. Most police academies require candidates to have some college credits before applying. You might want to earn your degree first in a preferred field of study then apply to the police academy for a well-rounded education and have an edge on the competition.

Schools OfferingCrime Scene Technician Courses: