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CAREERS

CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR

Crime scene investigators are important to helping keep society safe and helping law enforcement solve crimes. Learn more about becoming a CSI below. 

Nearly 8 million property crimes occurred in 2016, according to the FBI, leading to an estimated total of $15.6 billion in losses, and the number of violent crimes nationwide topped 1.2 million the same year. Those are daunting numbers, to be sure, but professionals with criminal justice degrees in crime scene investigation can help control them.

Crime scene investigators perform some of the most mentally vigorous work required of graduates with criminal justice degrees. The duties of the job, whether from a forensic science or detective/criminal investigation angle, include:

  • Discovering and labeling evidence
  • Conducting on-site analyses or interviews
  • Synthesizing available information into detailed reports for later review
  • Reconstruction crime scenes
  • Sifting through online, public and court records to uncover clues

Depending on the region and the exact position, crime scene investigators (CSIs) may also be known as criminalists or forensic science technicians.

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

There are two distinct paths you can take to become a crime scene investigator. The first path, which is based more on job experience than classroom study, consists of the following steps:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Apply for admission your local police academy or an affiliated institution
  3. Pass any strength, agility, hearing, vision, lie detector or drug tests required by police academy registration standards
  4. Successfully complete police academy training and begin work as an officer
  5. Learn skills of evidence gathering and crime scene investigation through on-the-job training or career education courses

The second path to become a CSI prioritizes academic experience over direct work experience, though having spent time in the workforce as a criminal justice or natural sciences professional can potentially help your chances of employment:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Apply to a bachelor's degree program at an accredited college or university
  3. Graduate with a bachelor's degree in high standing (biology, chemistry, psychology or criminal justice degrees with a natural science component are often preferred) -- Read about the top schools for criminal justice for more info
  4. Complete any additional requirements your state may have for crime scene work

Important Skills for CSIs

In general, detectives and investigators benefit from the following skills and qualities:

  • Clear communication
  • Strong decision-making
  • Inquisitiveness
  • Patience
  • Resourcefulness

Forensic science technicians should aim for the following qualities and skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Math and science strengths
  • Clear communication
  • Problem solving

Crime Scene Investigator Salary and Job Outlook

As with any position, earnings depend on many factors, including the coursework completed, geographic location of the job, and other variables.

Because the duties of the profession can be portioned out to professionals with different titles and different overall levels of education and experience, it's important to look at two separate sets of salary and job growth figures provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Detectives and Criminal Investigators105,620$86,030
Forensic Science Technicians16,520$63,170
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

If you've got a keen eye for detail and a passion for solving problems, crime scene investigation might be the career for you. To find out more about how to become a crime scene investigator and see a full list of sources, check out the visual aid below.

Article Sources

 How to become a crime scene investigator

Article Sources
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016 Crime Statistics, www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-2016-crime-statistics
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook & Occupational Employment Statistics, Private Detectives and Investigators, accessed July 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook & Occupational Employment Statistics, Forensic Science Technicians, accessed July 2018, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm#tab-9
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