The growing role and importance of DNA and other forensic evidence in the criminal justice system means that crime scene investigators should continue to be in demand across law enforcement agencies. Federal projections call for approximately 2,400 additional jobs for crime scene investigators from 2010 to 2020.
With assignments in the field and in the laboratory, forensic science offers a variety of positions in a profession where the duties seldom are the same from day-to-day but instead change based upon the nature of the criminal case being investigated.
Also known as forensic science technicians, crime scene investigators collect and catalog physical evidence, such as fingerprints, clothing fibers and weapons. They perform ballistics tests, review crime scene photographs and conduct laboratory testing. They may also compare physical evidence, such as fingerprints found at a crime scene, against an existing database of previous offenders.
Crime scene investigators must produce meticulous reports to be used in ongoing criminal probes and prosecutions, and they often are required to testify in depositions, hearings and trials.
Job Outlook and Salary Range for Crime Scene Investigators
There were more than 12,500 crime scene investigators employed nationwide in May 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The BLS projects 19% employment growth through 2020, which is higher than the national average (14%) for all occupations. Much of the increase likely will be driven by technological advances that have made crime scene forensics more prevalent across the country.
The BLS noted that competition for crime scene investigator positions can be fierce, in part, because fictional portrayals of the profession – such as the TV show C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation – have made it a popular career choice.
The average annual salary for a crime scene investigator was $55,660 in May 2011, according to the BLS. Those working for federal law enforcement agencies had a significantly higher average wage – more than $95,000 a year. For crime scene investigators employed by local and state government agencies the average was almost $55,000.
Salary potential and job opportunities typically vary based on a number of factors, including local market conditions, and an individual’s work experience and educational qualifications.
Education and Training for Crime Scene Investigators
The BLS notes that educational requirements for crime scene investigators differ based on their specific duties, as well as the particular role and focus of the hiring agency. Generally, a bachelor’s degree is required and crime scene investigators who work in the field may have begun their law enforcement career as a police officer. Crime scene professionals who work in a laboratory typically have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as forensic science.
Excellent judgment, an attention to detail and poise under pressure are among the core competencies of effective crime scene investigators. Ongoing training and education is a common requirement for crime scene investigators, who must respond to rapidly advancing technology and other changes to the criminal justice system.
Whether investigators work in the field or in the laboratory, they likely will have extensive on-the-job training overseen by experienced co-workers before they are allowed to work on cases independently.