Difference Between Crime Scene Investigator & Forensic Scientist

Jan 02, 2019

The tasks of forensic scientists may overlap with those of crime scene investigators. This article explores the detailed similarities and differences between the responsibilities that come with each of these careers.

Comparing Crime Scene Investigators to Forensic Scientists

Crime scene investigators and forensic scientists work with evidence at a potential crime scene. They help to solve instances of accidents, homicides, and suicides or may even work to bring down large organizations of organized crime, such as drug dealers. A close attention to detail, along with knowledge of proper evidence-gathering and testing procedures, is essential for these professionals.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Crime Scene Investigators Bachelor's Degree $44,536 -1% to 1% (Criminal Investigators and Special Agents)
Forensic Scientists Bachelor's Degree $51,664 27% (Forensic science technicians)

Sources: *Payscale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Crime Scene Investigators vs. Forensic Scientists

To many, the responsibilities of crime scene investigators and forensic scientists are the same. It is important to point out, however, that crime scene investigators are called such because they spend the majority of their time in the field. In fact, they often teach police officers the best way to preserve a crime scene and keep it from becoming contaminated. Forensic scientists, on the other hand, spend their time in laboratories and courtrooms. Though they may work together to solve a case, these professionals each have a niche to fill.

Crime Scene Investigators

Crime scene investigators are key in the prosecution's case, as they assist in providing physical evidence against an alleged criminal. While in the field, crime scene investigators may first work with law enforcers to build a perimeter around the scene and determine the best way to collect evidence based on the particular scene. The evidence obtained may depend on the nature of the crime and charges being brought towards the perpetrator. Along with collecting evidence, they take notes about their findings, as well as photographs of the scene and evidence, to assist in the courtroom trial later on.

Job responsibilities of a crime scene investigator include:

  • Determining time and cause of death, with the help of medical examiners
  • Ensuring evidence is collected and documented properly
  • Examining fibers, footprints, and bodily fluids left at a crime scene
  • Interviewing family, police and detectives, and witnesses to better understand the nature of the crime and death

Forensic Scientists

Most forensic scientists work for state and local governments. They typically have backgrounds in biology and chemistry in order to properly and thoroughly test evidence found at crime scenes. They work to reconstruct the crime scene by using equipment such as infrared spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to analyze evidence that helps convict a criminal. These scientists usually specialize in testing fingerprints, toxicology, firearms, or DNA. While testing, they often record any observations they may have, in addition to producing written analyses of their findings to be used in court.

Job responsibilities of a forensic scientist include:

  • Utilizing databases to search for compounds found at a scene in order to verify what a substance is
  • Tracking fingerprints and DNA through state and national databases to make connections between evidence and a potential suspect
  • Sometimes assisting in the field to actually gather evidence
  • Acting as expert witnesses in court during trials

Related Careers

If you have been researching a career in crime scene investigation, you may want to consider a job as a homicide investigator, as both of these careers use evidence and questioning techniques to catch criminals. Additionally, if a job as a forensic scientist interests you, you may look into a career as a biochemist, since both of these jobs may require working with tissues and different chemicals and instruments in a lab.

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