What is a Crime Scene Investigator?
A crime scene investigator, otherwise known as a forensic investigator, evidence technician or a crime scene analyst, is responsible for collecting and analyzing a range of evidence from crime scenes.
Physical evidence such as hair, bodily fluids and items left by criminals are carefully collected, catalogued and tested by CSIs. They will then work with police officers and other investigators to provide supporting evidence to bolster criminal investigations.
CSIs are involved in every step of the criminal justice cycle, including presenting and explaining evidence in court during criminal trials.
Many CSIs are former police officers who have decided to specialize in crime scene investigation, but an increasing amount of investigators are entering the profession through gaining knowledge and experience in the science field as opposed to criminal justice.
Job Description and Common Tasks
Crime scene investigators are specialized experts in carelly collecting and analyzing physical evidence left by both criminals and victims at crime scenes. Attention to detail is vital as investigators will be seeking evidence such as fingerprints, hairs, fibers, footprint impressions, fluids and blood spatters.
They hold a huge responsibility for correctly cataloging evidence and make sure it reaches the right specialists for analysis. Forensic investigators must also possess strong written communication skills, as they need to create reports which will help contextualise and explain the evidence gathered and its significance.
Day-to-day duties can include:
- Properly and systematically locating, collecting and storing physical evidence found on crime scenes.
- Photographing or drawing diagrams of crime scenes as evidence, measuring every aspect of a crime scene to help with further investigation.
- Attending victim autopsies to catalogue further physical evidence and make hair matches.
- Preparing accurate and detailed reports about crime scene findings to support further investigations.
- Testifying at criminal trials, presenting and explaining physical evidence to a jury as an expert witness.
- Working alongside crime laboratory technicians to help analyze physical crime evidence.
CSIs spend the majority of their time working in the field, securing and documenting crime scenes, however they take an active role across the investigation process. They must use deductive reasoning and their experience to piece together what could have happened based on visual cues. This can include victim injuries, bullet fragment patterns and blood spatter patterns.
How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator
The majority of crime scene investigators must hold a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. This is commonly criminal justice, but it can also be a science-related degree in biology or chemistry. Many will also have experience in law enforcement, either working as a police officer or a detective before becoming a crime scene investigator.
Different agencies have different degree requirements for CSIs, including some roles which require no degree, so it is worth contacting your local police department to find out the specific requirements for your area and state.
Crime scene investigators will need to pass their own background checks before they can work, including being fingerprinted.
Those who pursue a career in crime scene investigation will receive on-the-job training when hired, often shadowing an experienced CSI who will teach the meticulous processes which go into investigating and collecting evidence from a crime scene. They require a mixture of scientific and investigative skills and strengths to fulfil their role.
Training subjects will include how to photograph a crime scene, collect fingerprint samples and analysis of blood spatter patterns.
CSIs are also consistently training up in new analysis techniques, and need to keep up-to-date on advancements and technologies within the industry.
Pros and Cons of Being a Crime Scene Investigator
CSIs work closely with many agencies throughout a criminal investigation, and often need to explain complicated scientific theories in a way which is easy to process and understand. The role is ideal for those who like working alongside a wide range of people, and are heavily detail-oriented.
Pros of Being a Crime Scene Investigator Include…
Interest in being a crime scene investigator has increased significantly after they became the subject of a whole genre of television procedurals, but there is still a high demand for those who are trained crime scene investigators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a job growth of 14% for the decade ending 2028
Crime scene investigators are skilled workers who earn a competitive salary, depending on their experience and jurisdiction. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a CSI earns an average wage of $58,000
The role is incredibly varied, and no day will be the same. You will be expected to travel to different locations on most days and work alongside different people. It is a great career for those who like to cover a range of responsibilities and need a role with a variety of demands.
Cons of Being a Crime Scene Investigator Include…
You will often find yourself working in unpleasant conditions, witnessing disturbing crime scenes and environments which often smell, are messy and difficult to look at. CSIs need a stomach of steel, and aren’t easily disturbed by scenes of homicides and sexual assaults
Obviously crime doesn’t happen to a schedule, and crime scene investigators need to be flexible in their availability. They need to be prepared to be called to a crime scene on off hours, including nights and weekends. They will often work over 40 hours a week
The role can be physically demanding. The meticulous nature of documenting a crime scene involves a lot of repetitive physical activity while collecting evidence, including kneeling and carrying heavy technical equipment.
Who Employs Crime Scene Investigators?
CSIs are employed by police departments, crime labs and coroner’s offices. The workforce is a mixture of police officers who have become CSIs and ‘civilian’ forensic investigators who have a scientific background.