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Crime Scene Investigations and Forensic Laboratory Science



While CSI professionals collect and preserve evidence from active crime scenes, forensic lab professionals decipher their findings through DNA testing and other forensic analysis. Together, crime scene investigators and forensic scientists form comprehensive investigative teams responsible for solving crimes.

What It Takes to Become a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator)

Crime scene investigators (CSI), including evidence technicians, crime scene analysts, or forensic investigators, are responsible for identifying, collecting, and documenting the physical evidence found at a crime scene. Crime scene investigations and forensic lab work requires highly educated individuals with a background in forensic science, the natural sciences, and the criminal justice system.

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Most law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories expect job candidates will hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, with the most relevant areas of study being in forensic science and crime scene investigations. Those interested in this line of work may obtain a degree or certificate through a technical school; however, most seek their education through schools with a criminal justice department that offer degrees with a concentration in forensics and crime scene investigations. A criminal justice degree with a concentration in forensics or crime scene investigations provides a course of study that covers three critical areas: forensic science, technology, and law enforcement.

Forensic science and crime scene investigations degrees at the baccalaureate level prepare graduates for careers in criminal investigations, crime scene investigations, crime scene analysis, as well as graduate-level studies.

Criminal justice and forensics programs may focus on a specific area of forensic science, such as ballistics, blood spatter or DNA evidence, and are well suited for higher-level CSI positions within local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Coursework within a typical forensic science bachelor’s degree includes: advanced math, chemistry, biology, psychology, evidence collection, sociology, and courtroom presentation.

Extensive, In-Service Training

Although education is an important component for achieving a career as a crime scene investigator, on-the-job training is, perhaps, just as important, as it provides individuals with real scenarios and settings.

Many law enforcement agencies have strict training periods for new hires that involve working under a senior crime scene investigator for a period of time, which often lasts between 6 months and 2 years. Further, ongoing training programs and classes are an important part of a CSI career, and most law enforcement agencies require the completion of specific training programs throughout the year for their CSIs.

State Licensure and Professional Certification

Beyond a degree from an accredited college or university, many CSI positions in state and local law enforcement require CSIs to earn state licensure and/or professional certification, usually within 18 months of being hired.

Although some states have their own state certification programs that reflect state standards and minimum requirements for training and experience, many states defer to ICSIA or IAI  standards for crime scene investigator certification.

Continuing education requirements for maintaining professional certification of this sort also often satisfies state and employer specific professional development requirements. Many states also look to these professional associations for specific training programs in areas such as:

  • Alternate Light Source Training
  • Footwear and Tire Tread
  • Forensic Odontology
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Clandestine Lab Training
  • Arson Investigations
  • Courtroom Testimony
  • Blood Pattern Analysis
  • Latent Print Detection/Comparison
  • Crime Scene Investigations
  • Crime Scene Documentation
  • Death Investigations
  • Evidence Photograph

Law enforcement agency employment requirements for crime scene investigators and other forensic science professionals can also often be met by taking coursework and training programs offered by such national organizations as:

  • The National Forensic Academy
  • The National Forensic Science Technology Center
  • The National Institute of Justice

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