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Crime Scene Detective: Job Description and Requirements

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

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Crime scene detectives are deployed to the crime scene to gather and document evidence and clues. They can pass their findings over to lab analysts to examine them, or they may do it themselves. Education varies by employer, but a 4-year undergraduate degree is often required.

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Essential Information

Crime scene detectives identify, collect and process physical evidence at crime scenes. They are generally employed by law enforcement agencies. Prospective crime scene detectives may earn a bachelor's degree at a college or university in order to enter this career.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Additional Requirements Law enforcement officer status may be required; police academy training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% for detectives and criminal investigators
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $77,210 for detectives and criminal investigators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Job Description

Crime scene detectives are also known as crime scene investigators, crime scene technicians, forensic investigators and forensic science technicians. They are responsible for identifying, collecting, preserving, processing and submitting physical evidence from crime scenes. In addition, they are responsible for analyzing and evaluating the evidence in a forensics laboratory. Evidence may include blood, body fluids, fingernails, fingerprints, glass, hairs, fibers and weapons. They also perform DNA analysis, examine tissues and interpret bloodstain patterns.

When arriving at a crime scene, the detective must secure the scene and ensure that it is not contaminated or disturbed. After identifying any evidence, the detective must secure the evidence by collecting it in a container and properly labeling the container with the date and time. The crime scene detective also determines if any photography or video is needed and documents any sketches or measurements.

Crime scene detectives also operate special equipment for alternative lighting, lifting fingerprints and reconstructing bullet paths. They also use special software that allows them to reproduce crime scenes in 3D.

The detective's job duties include preparing an investigative report which contains documenting evidence, documenting the crime scene and the techniques that were used when analyzing the evidence. A crime scene detective may also be responsible for appearing at various trials as an expert witness.

Detective Requirements

Though not a requirement, many crime scene detectives are law enforcement officers. Each law enforcement agency has its own requirements for becoming crime scene detectives; however, most require at least a 4-year bachelor's degree from a college or university. Though no specific bachelor's degree is required for this career, a forensics or science degree is preferred. Some of the courses may include:

  • Crime scene investigation
  • Criminal evidence
  • Forensics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Crime scene detectives must also possess exceptional organizational and computer skills, strong written skills and the ability to communicate with others. They must also possess the ability to operate photographic and video equipment. Employers may require:

  • Background check
  • Drug test
  • Physical examination
  • Polygraph test
  • Interview

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that detective and criminal investigator positions were predicted to decline by 1% from 2014-2024, which was slower than the average growth of 7% for all occupations. Detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual salary of $77,210 in 2015, per BLS.

Detectives must know how to properly conduct a crime scene investigation. Being perceptive and accurate are the essential qualities of a crime scene detective. Most government agencies require these detectives to possess a bachelor's degree in forensics or a similar discipline, sometimes even requiring law enforcement training and experience.

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