Crime Scene Investigator Job Description: What You'll Do

Although most crime scene investigator jobs do not require a degree in criminal justice, the credential can be a solid choice for aspiring crime scene professionals. Crime scene investigators need skills in scientific analysis, forensics, and lab techniques, but they may also benefit from a strong knowledge of the criminal justice system. Future forensics professionals might pursue a criminal justice degree to explore criminology, the U.S. judicial system, and the correctional system. Plus, some criminal justice bachelor's programs offer a forensics concentration.

Read on to learn more about crime scene investigator careers, education requirements, and job responsibilities.

What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?

In general, crime scene investigators aid law enforcement by gathering and examining evidence. However, there are many subdivisions within the forensics field, and crime scene investigator job descriptions vary depending on which specialty they work in.

Forensic biologists and chemists use chemical processes, laboratory equipment, and computers to analyze DNA and other traces left behind at crime scenes. These professionals may specialize further in a field like fingerprinting, ballistics, or handwriting. Crime scene investigators concentrating in ballistics study the movements and effects of bullets and bombs. They may make inferences based on the condition of bullets and any residue left behind.

Forensic computer examiners and digital forensics analysts specialize in cybercrimes. They aid criminal investigations related to fraud, identity theft, scams, and data breaches. Additionally, some crime scene investigators do not specialize and instead deal with many types of crime and forms of evidence. These investigators are sometimes called criminalists.

In terms of work environment, crime scene investigators spend much of their time in the field at crime scenes. They also analyze samples in laboratories and sometimes appear in court to testify. Some crime scene investigators work as expert witnesses who answer questions related to crime lab methods.

Crime scene investigators aid law enforcement by gathering and examining evidence...there are many subdivisions within the forensics field, and crime scene investigator job descriptions vary depending on which specialty they work in.

At a crime scene, crime scene investigators perform a variety of duties to effectively collect and examine evidence. They may broadly analyze the area to determine what objects and substances merit the most attention. They also might take photos and sketch the crime scene to create a detailed record of the environment as they found it. Additionally, the responsibilities of a crime scene investigator involve carefully documenting the position of evidence and state of the scene.

Forensics technicians collect any evidence they believe may help solve a crime, including fingerprints, weapons, and blood samples. They catalog and preserve the evidence, making sure not to contaminate samples.

In laboratories, crime scene specialists analyze evidence using various chemical and biological methods. They attempt to understand what happened at the crime scene and may try to connect DNA samples to suspects. Crime scene investigators also recreate crime scenes and consult specialists outside their area of expertise.

What Are the Qualities a Crime Scene Investigator Should Have?

Attention to Detail

Crime scene investigators must pay attention to every detail when gathering and analyzing evidence. They need to notice small changes in environments and objects.

Critical Thinking and Reasoning Skills

Crime scene investigators must consider a great deal of evidence and come to a logical conclusion. They need to exercise excellent judgement when helping law enforcement.

Science and Math Skills

These professionals must use a variety of lab techniques to analyze weapons, biological samples, and other evidence. They also require a strong knowledge of statistics.

Oral Communication Skills

Crime scene investigators often testify in court, so they must be able to clearly describe their findings and the investigative methods they used.

Written Communication Skills

In addition to testifying in court, crime scene investigators typically need to draft written reports of their conclusions for detectives, lawyers, and other law enforcement personnel.

What Education Is Required to Become a Crime Scene Investigator?

Crime scene investigators come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds. Some small law enforcement agencies might only require a diploma or certificate, while larger agencies typically expect at least an associate or bachelor's degree. A degree in criminal justice, crime scene investigation, or forensic science can lead to a crime scene investigator job.

Bachelor's Degree in Crime Scene Investigation

Earning a bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation is a great way to launch a crime scene investigator career. In these programs, students explore the basics of criminal investigations and develop the necessary technical skills to help law enforcement agencies build cases against suspects.

Since some colleges and universities offer crime scene investigation as a concentration within a criminal justice degree, crime scene investigation students may learn about major elements of the U.S. judicial system. In terms of technical coursework, learners may gain skills in firearms, fingerprint, and DNA analysis.

Through classes on crime scene photography, students examine techniques including underwater and aerial photography. Cyber forensics courses explain various approaches crime scene investigators use when dealing with computer-related offenses. In addition, crime scene investigation students gain an understanding of courtroom procedures.

Bachelor's in crime scene investigation programs usually require four years of full-time study.

Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science

While students can become forensic science technicians by obtaining a degree in a natural science like biology or chemistry, forensic science bachelor's programs produce graduates that are highly qualified for jobs in crime investigation. Students who earn their bachelor's in forensic science can often focus in an area such as pathology, DNA analysis, or toxicology.

Learners may take classes that discuss key criminal justice topics such as criminal behavior, the court system, and regulatory bodies. Curricula might also include fingerprinting courses that teach students to assess surfaces and collect fingerprints. Through ballistics classes, students learn to identify firearms and projectiles. Other courses explore the basics of criminal procedure, including admissibility of evidence and any relevant laws and regulations.

Bachelor's in forensic science programs, like most other bachelor's programs, typically comprise 120 credits and take approximately four years to complete. Students can earn this degree through a four-year college or university.

Where are Crime Scene Investigators Employed?

Crime scene investigator jobs are projected to grow by 16.9% between 2016 and 2026, according to Projections Central. The chart below shows the states with the highest number of people employed in this job, along with the number of those working in this occupation as of May 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Top States for Crime Scene Investigator Careers
State Number Employed
California 2,110
Florida 1,710
Texas 1,320
New York 840
Arizona 700
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018
Top Cities and Metropolitan Areas for Crime Scene Investigator Careers
Metropolitan Area Number Employed
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 960
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 640
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 510
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 440
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 440
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 410
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 380
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 360
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 350
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 320
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018

Want to Learn More about Crime Scene Investigator Jobs?

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According to federal government data, the highest-paid forensic science technicians earn around $100,000 per year. Click the link below to explore more about crime scene investigator salaries.

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If you are not set on becoming a crime scene investigator, one of the degrees below can lead to a fruitful career in the criminal justice field.

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