How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator Forensic Scientist in Los Angeles, California

In general CSIs work in the field documenting and collecting evidence at crime scenes while forensic scientists work in labs where they analyze evidence. This division is often blurred in Los Angeles:

LAPD Scientific Investigation Division – This division consists of a criminalistics and a technical laboratory. Together they provide a full range of forensic services, including the documentation, collection, preservation and analysis of crime scene evidence that can link suspects to crimes, connect items to sources and/or shed light on circumstances surrounding crimes.

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LAPD Criminalistics Laboratory – The LAPD criminalistics lab is nationally accredited by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Lab Accreditation Bureau. It contains the following units:

  • Field Investigation Unit – Collects crime scene evidence like fingerprints, DNA sources, trace evidence, etc. Photographs or diagrams the scene.
  • Questioned Documents Unit – Compares handwriting, detects alterations or manipulations, restores obliterated writing, identifies latent impressions, identifies printing processes and reassembles shredded documents.
  • Firearms Analysis Unit – Examines firearms and fired bullets/cartridges, runs comparisons with ballistics databases and investigates scenes of shootings.
  • Narcotics Analysis Unit – Analyzes narcotics seized from offenders.
  • Serology/DNA Unit – Analyzes evidence for presence of DNA; screens and develops DNA profiles, compares with FBI’s Combined DMA Index System.
  • Toxicology Unit – Runs alcohol and drug testing programs.
  • Trace Analysis Unit – Examines, compares and analyzes trace evidence like hair, fiber, glass, paint, accelerants, gunshot residue, explosives, etc.

How to Become a CSI or Forensic Laboratory Scientist in Los Angeles

Education and experience are the two most important determining factors. Although some CSI positions only require a high school diploma, preference is given to persons with at least an associate’s degree in criminal justice, forensic science or police science. There are at least seven two-year colleges in Los Angeles that offer these programs. A forensic science position requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in chemistry or another natural science. Los Angeles has three large public and at least four private universities with undergraduate and graduate science programs.

In addition to education, both Los Angeles law enforcement agencies have the following requirements for either CSI or forensic scientist positions:

  • Valid CA driver’s license; good driving record
  • No felony convictions, DUIs or history of substance abuse
  • Background investigation and fingerprinting
  • Physically able to stand for long periods, bend, stoop and  squat
  • Willing to work nights, weekends and holidays
  • Pass oral examination

Lists of open positions and online applications for LAPD and sheriff’s department jobs are available at the appropriate city and county employment websites.

Experience in a forensic lab is required for all but the most entry-level jobs. It is noted that the LAPD has an internship program in conjunction with local universities that allows students to gain first-hand experience working with CSIs or forensic lab scientists. The LAPD website has detailed Information.  The average annual salaries for CSIs and forensic scientists in Los Angeles are $52,000 and $66,000 respectively.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services Division

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services Division is staffed with deputy sheriffs, forensic specialists and law enforcement technicians who are responsible for all facets of crime scene investigation. The division consists of a major crimes group, an investigations group and a chemical abuse group.

  • Major Crimes Group – Identifies, collects and processes biological and physical evidence related to major crimes, reconstructs crime scenes, interprets blood spatters, examines firearms and questioned documents.
  • Investigations Group – Perform crime scene investigations of all crimes; includes a photographic lab, photo/digital imaging and polygraph units.
  • Chemical Abuse Group – Investigates illegal narcotics crime scenes and DUI cases; handles alcohol/drug screening programs.

Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center

Spurred by a shortage of forensic lab space to handle the high volume of cases in Los Angeles, the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center opened in 2007 on the campus of California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) as the result of a partnership between CSULA, the LAPD and the LA Sheriff’s Department. The immense center contains forensic laboratories of both L.A. law enforcement agencies, as well as facilities for CSULA’s criminal justice program and the California Forensic Science Institute. The center offers public tours and educational presentations.

LAPD Technical Laboratory

Specialized units that make up the LAPD technical lab are:

  • Latent Print Unit – Processes crime scenes to identify and collect latent prints; analyzes prints using chemical enhancements, compares with finger/palm print databases. In 2011, the unit processed over 17,000 crime scenes.
  • Photographic Unit – Employs 27 persons who take crime scene and aerial photograph; prints/retains photos. Responsible for 115,000 images in 2011.
  • Polygraph Unit – Performs polygraph examinations.
  • Electronics Unit – Conducts video and audio surveillances.

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