Should I Become a Crime Lab Technician?
Also called forensic science technicians, crime lab technicians assist with criminal investigations by studying physical evidence in laboratories. They are distinct from other forensic science technicians who specialize in crime scene investigations and collect evidence on site. Crime lab technicians perform laboratory analyses on evidence including bodily fluids, guns, fibers, bullets, and hairs. They may specialize in a particular type of analysis, such as fingerprints, DNA, or handwriting. Job duties involve utilizing scientific equipment, chemicals, and computer databases to study evidence that other professionals collect at crime scenes.
Individuals seeking careers as crime lab technicians need a bachelor's degree plus on-the-job training. They should be able to pass a background check and drug test. Optional professional certifications are also available. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual salary of $60,090 for forensic science technicians.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field||Forensic science, chemistry, molecular biology, biology, or biochemistry|
|Certification||Optional certifications awarded by professional associations are available|
|Experience||Work experience is usually not required, but some employers prefer to avoid job training and hire experienced workers|
|Key Skills||Verbal and written communication skills; attention to detail; critical-thinking skills; familiarity with laws and court procedures; proficiency with relevant software, including Combined DNA Index System, National Crime Information Center database, and DesignWare 3D EyeWitness|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Society of Crime Lab Directors, Forensic science professional associations, O*NET OnLine
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Steps to Become a Crime Lab Technician
Let's see what steps have to be taken to become a crime lab technician.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Crime lab technicians typically hold a bachelor's degree in forensic science or another scientific field, including chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry, and biology. Forensic science students should choose coursework that helps them attain skills in the area in which they want to specialize. For example, students should take natural science classes if they plan to specialize in latent prints or select biology courses to specialize in DNA analysis.
Forensic science bachelor's degree programs include courses and laboratory work. Programs with a heavy emphasis on math, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology may provide the best preparation for a crime lab technician career. Students also study topics in anthropology. They learn about the criminal justice system, evidence rules, and professional ethics. Specific classes in forensic science degree programs may include murder investigations, cell biology, forensic microscopy, bloodstain evidence, science statistics, and genetics.
Step 2: Get Hired at a Crime Lab
Most crime lab technicians work for local and state agencies, including law enforcement departments, morgues, and medical examiners. A non-criminal background is essential due to security precautions and because a crime lab technician's credibility may be scrutinized in a courtroom. Many employers require job applicants to take and pass polygraph exams, substance abuse screenings, and background checks.
Check forensic science websites for job postings: Aspiring crime lab technicians will find many job vacancies announced online. Examples of organizations that post job listings include the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Local and state government agencies that hire crime lab technicians also post job openings on their websites. The ASCLD recommends that new graduates spend approximately 15-25 hours weekly on job-search tasks, including sending letters and resumes and making telephone contacts.
Step 3: Complete a Job Training Program
In addition to a formal education, crime lab technicians typically receive on-the-job training to master the necessary skills. Job training programs range from just months to as long as two or three years. The time it takes to complete lab training depends upon the complexity of the specialty. Proficiency testing is needed before crime lab technicians can analyze cases on their own or give testimony in a courtroom.
Step 4: Obtain Optional Certification
Many professional forensic science associations award certification to qualified members. Examples include the American Board of Criminalistics and the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners. To be eligible for voluntary certification, applicants generally must pass exams, hold a bachelor's degree and meet requirements for training and experience. Continuing education and proficiency testing are typically required to maintain certification.
To become a crime lab technician, you'll need a bachelor's degree along with on-the-job training.