Crime scene investigators collect forensic evidence, such as fibers, hair, weapons or tissue samples, to determine its significance in criminal investigations. Crime scene investigators are typically forensic scientists or field analysts who have been specially trained to preserve and collect evidence.
The most applicable education for work as a crime scene investigator is a bachelor's degree in forensic science, forensic anthropology or forensic biology. Forensic science degree programs emphasize interdisciplinary coursework, including criminal justice, molecular biology and biochemistry. Most forensic science students also focus on a specialization, such as fingerprint analysis, toxicology or DNA profiling, in addition to learning about evidence retrieval and documentation methods.
While relevant, a degree in forensic science isn't required to work as a crime scene investigator. Professionals in this field come from a variety of educational backgrounds, including general studies and criminal justice, although graduates of these programs may be required to complete additional forensic training.
Many schools also offer certificate or 2-year degree programs in crime scene investigation. Completion of a 4-year degree in biology or chemistry is also acceptable for this line of work and may offer greater career flexibility, if an individual chooses to transition out of specialized criminal evidence analysis.
Crime scene investigators, also referred to as forensic science technicians, collect, preserve and transport physical evidence, which is later analyzed at a lab for use in investigations and criminal proceedings. They may also be responsible for documenting crime scenes using written notes, photographs and sketches. Crime scene investigators must be analytically minded and attentive to detail, because oversights could lead to investigative dead ends or holes in criminal cases.
Government agencies and laboratories typically employ crime scene investigators. Job requirements and duties for crime scene investigators generally vary by geographic location and the governmental department for which they work, whether local, state or federal. Typically, new recruits must have a college degree and complete a significant period of on-the-job training.
Salary & Employment Information
According to May 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, most jobs for forensic science technicians were at the local government level. However, the highest salaries were offered by the executive branch of the federal government, which boasted an annual mean wage of $100,400. The BLS noted that, overall, forensic science technicians earned an average annual salary of $60,090 in 2015. From 2014-2024, the BLS predicted 27% employment growth for these technicians, which is much faster than average.