Crime scene investigators specialize in the physical and visual examination of crime scenes. They use advanced tools and investigative techniques to find, collect, and analyze evidence. This evidence is then used to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of crimes. In this article, we'll walk you through the requirements for becoming a CSI. We’ll also tell you about the job outlook and the different areas that the career focuses on.

A Crime Scene Investigator: Duties and Responsibilities

In a nutshell, crime scene investigators are specially trained members of the police force who identify and collect forensic evidence at crime scenes. In addition to collecting and preserving evidence, a CSI can also interview witnesses and victims to get more information about the nature of the crime and its perpetrators. Their work requires close cooperation with other members of the police force, including detectives. 

Another important part of a CSI’s job includes testifying in court about the evidence and findings. They are often employed by state or federal law enforcement agencies, but they can also be civilians who are contracted by police or work in the private sector. 

Each crime scene investigator job description is tailored to different types of CSIs. The different types of investigators have specific duties and responsibilities:

  • Crime scene leader: This job is given to individuals with extensive experience in the field. They are in charge of managing the entire processing of the crime scene and overseeing the work of the other investigators. They also work very closely with law enforcement officials and crime lab personnel.   
  • Crime scene technician: The technician is responsible for documenting and processing evidence. This job role may also involve transporting evidence and performing tests on victims.   
  • Photographer: This is another delicate role requiring the photographer to capture the crime scene and any victims found at the scene through digital photographs.   
  • Latent print examiner: The primary function of those with this job description is to lift fingerprints from different surfaces at the crime scene.
  • DNA analyst: A DNA specialist is responsible for recovering and analyzing DNA evidence.
  • Forensic artist: Also referred to as a crime scene sketch artist, this CSI specialist creates sketches of suspects by interviewing witnesses and victims. 

If you’re trying to figure out what is a crime scene investigator and what sort of skills the profession requires, familiarizing yourself with criminal law is only half the job. CSIs must possess additional skills and expertise and be able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications, as they often have to work long hours and deal with stressful situations. The following paragraph delves deeper into some of these requirements.

Becoming an Investigator

To become a CSI, an individual needs to be dedicated and willing to put in a great deal of hard work. In most jurisdictions, when applying for crime scene investigator jobs, you’ll be required to have at least a bachelor's degree in science, forensics, or criminal justice. Some roles only require a GED or high school diploma. A prospective CSI can also start out as a police officer and complete on-the-job training courses. 

If you’re pursuing a degree in forensic science, make sure to take electives in law enforcement, criminal justice, and crime scene processing. When choosing a school, go for the one that is accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Enrolling in an accredited online training program is yet another way to become a CSI and fulfill crime scene investigator education requirements in a less-traditional way. Many online programs offer the same courses as traditional schools, but they allow you to complete your coursework at your own pace.

If you plan on specializing in analyzing collected evidence, a four-year degree in natural science, such as biology and chemistry, or forensic science is required at most crime laboratories. This is especially true for those aspiring to become forensic science technicians -  a job that revolves around the lab but may also require you to testify as an expert witness in court. 

Most agencies do not require you to be a sworn police officer before becoming a crime scene investigator, but some do.

With some agencies, the list of crime scene investigator requirements includes on-the-job training that lasts for several months or even years. Once they are certified, CSIs need to upgrade their skills by attending periodic workshops and conferences. In addition, they must be able to work long hours, often under stressful conditions.

Skills Needed for a CSI Job

When it comes to desirable skills, a good CSI should have strong observational skills and good attention to detail. Furthermore, they must be able to maintain their composure in often-distressing situations and have a strong stomach for gruesome crime scenes. Also, they must have some insight into the psychology of the criminal mind.

Even when applying for entry-level crime scene investigator jobs, candidates need to be familiar with criminal law and have strong investigative skills. Additionally, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential in order to identify evidence and draw conclusions from it. Finally, good communication skills are necessary to liaise with other members of the crime scene investigation team and provide court testimony when required.

Additional Qualifications You Can Obtain 

Once you have determined that you have the skills necessary to become a CSI, you will likely need to undergo special training, especially if the job entails processing evidence. Crime scene investigator training varies from agency to agency, but it typically includes instructions on how to collect and analyze evidence, as well as how to document a crime scene properly. Most agencies keep their CSIs sharp and up to date by requiring them to attend periodic workshops and conferences.

If you wish to become a certified CSI, you will need to complete an accredited training program and pass a certification exam. Once you have completed your training, you can apply for certification through the American Board of Criminalistics or ABC. To be eligible for ABC certification, you must have at least two years of professional experience in the field of criminalistics. Once you have been certified, you will need to renew your crime scene investigator certification every five years.

You can also enroll in an MA or Ph.D. program in forensic science if you wish to pursue a career in teaching or research or simply increase your chances of finding employment in this field. These programs typically take two to four years to complete and include coursework in chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as specialized courses in forensic science.

CSI Job Outlook 

For those considering a career in criminal justice investigation, the job outlook is promising. Employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That projected growth is equivalent to the average for all occupations. 

When it comes to a crime scene investigator's salary, the statistics reveal that the median annual wage for police and detectives was $66,020 in 2021. That comes to $31.74 per hour. 

While the criminal justice system faces numerous challenges, the job market for investigators is expected to expand in the coming years. A combination of retirements and more focus on compliance with government regulations are expected to lead to stronger demand for investigators. In 2020, police and detectives held a total of 795,000 jobs. 

When thinking about becoming a crime scene investigator, it is important to consider the job outlook for the specific position you are interested in. With the right skills and qualifications, you can easily find employment in this growing field. This also translates into plenty of opportunities for advancement in your career. But it also means that you'll need to be highly skilled and knowledgeable in order to be successful. 

The Benefits and Challenges of Being a Criminal Investigator

A crime scene investigator plays an essential role in solving crimes. In addition to being able to work with cutting-edge technology, they also get to work with some of the most brilliant minds in law enforcement. They play a critical role in their communities, and their contribution to ensuring that justice is served cannot be understated.

However, a career as a CSI also has its share of challenges. The hours can be long and grueling, and it can be challenging to maintain a work-life balance. Moreover, the job can be emotionally demanding, as investigators often struggle to deal with the aftermath of horrific crimes. Furthermore, wearing a crime scene investigator uniform comes with certain risks, as CSIs have been targeted by criminals in the past. In short, being a criminal investigator is not for the faint-hearted. But for those who are up to the challenge, it can be a rewarding career. 

Final Thoughts

If you're interested in a CSI career, this is an exciting time to get started. There are numerous job openings and new technologies emerging on a regular basis. Moreover, there are various positions, competitive starting salaries, and opportunities for advancement, and the work environment is centered on teamwork, respect, and continual learning.  But remember, it takes a special kind of person to be able to stomach gruesome crime scenes. Attention to detail is equally imperative, and you should be passionate about justice.