Although it may be possible to begin a career as a crime scene analyst with a high school diploma, most professionals in this field have relevant postsecondary training or several years of experience in a related field, such as law enforcement evidence collection. Certification is not always required, but may increase job prospects for those planning a career as a crime scene analyst.
A crime scene analyst (CSA), also known as a crime scene investigator or forensic science technician, supports police detectives or other law enforcement investigative teams by locating, collecting, and processing evidence. CSAs frequently work overtime or irregular hours in order to maintain chain-of-custody preservation if a shift change occurs when a scene is still being processed. Depending on the position or law enforcement agency, varying levels of education and training may be required.
|Required Education||Varies: high school diploma to completion of master's degree or police academy|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||27%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$56,320 annually|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Crime scene documentation may include evidence tagging, sketching, photographing and print gathering for laboratory processing. A CSA works with specialized equipment such as latent print kits, casting kits, electrostatic dust print lifters and meter testing equipment. In collecting evidence, CSAs must use approved methods and tools to take samples of body fluids and DNA samples. Some CSA's duties overlap those of a photographic forensics specialist. Dark room photo developing skills are regularly employed. CSAs must also process paperwork involved in the transfer of evidence and direct it to the proper destination.
Autopsy attendance is required of a CSA in order to gather evidence and document the corpse. Due to varying levels of decomposition and post-mortem procedural states of corpses, a CSA must be able to remain composed and think clearly in an unpleasant work environment. The CSA may be required to assist the medical examiner or pathologist.
CSAs need higher than average verbal and written skills in order to produce coherent written reports that can be used as evidence. CSAs may also testify as a witness regarding the evidentiary findings. A CSA acts as a liaison between law enforcement agents, attorneys, other investigators and lab technicians.
Physically, a CSA must be able to stoop, bend, crawl through tight spaces, lift moderate weight and stand for a prolonged period of time. Excellent auditory and vision capabilities are needed. In many places, the ability to ride in agency vehicles such as helicopters is essential.
Several years prior job experience in law enforcement evidence collection and related duties can be used in conjunction with, or at times as a substitution for educational training for entry-level positions. Required experience varies depending on the hiring agency, so check the job specifics with the employer.
Law enforcement agencies will request widely differing education levels. In some areas with less funding to pay higher salaries, on-the-job training will be provided in lieu of a formal degree. Higher-paying positions generally require a bachelor's or master's degree in crime scene investigation or criminalistics from an accredited college or university.
Since the majority of CSAs are law enforcement officers, graduation from a police academy or FBI training may be necessary.
Certification is not essential for all positions. The International Association for Identification offers a Crime Scene Certification that is accepted throughout the United States. Certification levels include Certified Crime Scene Investigator, Certified Crime Scene Analyst and Certified Crime Scene Reconstructionist. Renewal is done every five years by completing approved continuing education courses.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2015, most forensic science technicians earned between $34,000 and $94,410 per year, with the median annual salary falling at $56,320. The BLS projects the industry will see a 27% growth in employment from 2014 to 2024, though given the strong mainstream interest in the profession, a high level of competition for positions is also expected.
Crime scene analysts may be responsible for evidence tagging, sketching, photographing and print gathering at crime scenes. They also attend autopsies. They work irregular hours and need to be physically capable of bending, stooping, standing for long periods of time, and crawling into tight spaces to retrieve evidence.