Careers in Police Forensics: Job Options and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic technician. Get a quick view of the educational requirements as well as details about job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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A police forensics career requires a bachelor's degree in forensic science. Some may opt to specialize, and with a postgraduate degree they can become a DNA or toxicology analyst. Those who specialize can expect to be required to be certified, and to complete continuing education requirements.

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Essential Information

Forensic science is used by law enforcement and judicial entities to provide scientific information related to investigating crimes. Some police forensics professionals work in the field to gather evidence, while others work in labs or present their findings in court, acting as expert witnesses in criminal trials. There are multiple types of forensic investigators, which is determined based on scientific specialization. Specialists, such as DNA and toxicology analysts, will most likely have to possess a postgraduate degree in their specialization. Continuing education is also often required for all forensic scientists to stay up-to-date on the latest science and technology utilized by law enforcement.

Career Forensic Technician
Required Education Bachelor's degree or postgraduate degree (depending on specialization)
Other Requirements Continuing education may be required to maintain employment
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 27%
Median Salary (2015)* $56,320

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options in Police Forensics

Experts at different levels of law enforcement, from local to federal, conduct criminal investigations. Police forensic technicians are employed by agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, local police departments or sheriff's offices. Some police forensics professionals work for private companies and are consulted by law enforcement on an as-needed basis.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 27% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average when compared to all occupations. The BLS further reports that the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $56,320 as of May 2015.

Specializations

There are a variety of titles for forensics careers, including forensic science technician, crime scene investigator, forensic scientist and criminalist. Forensic technicians and scientists generally specialize in a particular type of analysis, such as fingerprint analysis, firearm examination or chemical and blood analysis. Some are experts in analyzing handwriting or recreating a crime scene.

Other experts are called in to assist with or consult on an investigation. For example, a forensic entomologist could be called in to study insects found at the scene of the crime. Other areas of expertise can include odontology, psychiatry, pathology, toxicology, anthropology and engineering. These experts might be used to provide testimony in court, since a qualified representative can add to the validity of findings.

Education

Some police forensics technicians, including fingerprint technicians, handwriting analysts and firearms specialists, are not required to have a college degree. Most, however, must have an educational foundation that includes an emphasis on natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology.

Undergraduate degree programs in forensic science focus on the natural sciences as well as mathematics and criminal justice. Graduate degree programs might cover specialty areas, such as DNA analysis and toxicology, and prepare graduates for work in a laboratory environment.

Certifications and continuing education are often required for specialists. Organizations, including the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners, the American Board of Criminalists and the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, certify that forensic technicians have the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform within their specialty.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Criminal Justice Reference Service, consulting specialists generally have a graduate or doctoral degree in a particular specialty. In order to consult for police forensic activities, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that these specialists usually must be certified by their respective professional organizations, such as the American Board of Forensic Entomology or the American Board of Pathology.

A career in police forensics involves collecting evidence related to a crime, or processing evidence from crimes in a lab. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement, and there are also areas of specialization for those with a postgraduate degree.

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