As on-site forensic experts, crime scene investigators are called upon to assess crime scenes, gather and process evidence, and work alongside law enforcement agencies and forensic scientists to ensure the investigation of a crime scene is comprehensive and thorough.
A career in crime scene investigation (CSI) demands a rigorous course of study and extensive training, and there simply is no substitute for a comprehensive college program specific to crime scene investigations. However, there are a number of options individuals may consider when pursuing a program in crime scene investigations.
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Forensic Science Vs. Crime Scene Investigation Degrees
Although it may seem like a degree in forensic science is the most appropriate path to becoming a crime scene investigator, many forensic science degrees are aimed at forensic scientists that work within the laboratory setting. These programs are typically based in the natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry.
And, although crime scene investigators must also have a solid foundation of knowledge in the natural sciences, a forensic science degree may not always be a good match for individuals seeking to pursue a career as crime scene investigators.
Specifically, a degree program specific to crime scene investigation will provide a course of study that focuses on the collection, documentation and examination of physical evidence at the scene. This type of degree offers a balance of theory and application, thereby preparing individuals through a curriculum that allows them to gain crucial critical-thinking, organizational, and communication skills.
There are forensic science degrees through degree-granting schools that are focused on crime scene investigation, but there are, perhaps, just as many degrees that focus solely on crime scene investigation and crime scene forensics. What is commonplace, however, is that many degree programs in crime scene investigation are housed within a college or university’s forensic science department. Many colleges and universities also offer crime scene investigation programs within their schools of criminal justice.
Choosing a Crime Scene Investigation Program
Similar to many other programs of study, a degree program in crime scene investigation may appear a number of ways, depending on the school and the department in which the program is housed:
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Criminal Investigations
- Criminal Justice Administration
- Criminal Justice: Investigations
- Forensic Investigations
- Crime Scene Technology
- Criminal Justice: Forensic Investigations
- Forensic Criminal Investigation
- Crime Scene Management
- Criminal Justice: Crime Analysis
CSI programs may culminate in everything from associate degrees to graduate degrees and certificates. And each type of degree program provides a specific course of study:
A crime scene investigation certificate is a basic course of study in crime scene investigation that may take as little as one year to complete. A CSI certificate is an ideal introduction to crime scene investigation and the basics of collecting and preserving evidence as part of an investigation team, and individuals who possess a CSI certificate may work as a crime scene investigative assistance or latent print developer.
Course topics in a CSI certificate program often include:
- Evidence Rules
- Evidence Analysis
- Biological Evidence
- Fingerprint Collection
- Management of a Crime Scene
- Criminal Law Procedures
- Biological Evidence
CSI Associate’s Degree
An associate’s degree in crime scene investigation, which usually takes about 2 years to complete, is most often offered through a school’s criminal justice department. An associate’s degree is an excellent introduction to CSI, as it provides students with a solid background in law enforcement and crime scene management. It is common for an associate’s degree program to focus on the use of technology and the proper handling and collecting of evidence at a crime scene, and many times they provide students with opportunities for hands-on exercises in evidence collection and investigative techniques.
Course topics therefore often include:
- Evidence Recovery Techniques
- Crime Scene Reconstruction
- Presenting Crime Scene Evidence
- Crime Scene Technology
- Evidence management
- Criminal Law
- Evidence Documentation
CSI Bachelor’s Degree
A CSI bachelor’s degree provides an in-depth study of investigation-related issues, such as crime scene investigation, criminal investigations, and investigative techniques. In addition to education courses in criminal justice and forensics, a bachelor’s degree allows students to obtain necessary crime scene investigation skills. A bachelor’s degree in crime scene investigation, which usually takes about 4 years to complete, is a standard in the field of crime scene investigation and therefore provides individuals with an abundance of professional opportunities.
Introductory education courses in a CSI bachelor’s degree program are usually focused on forensic, criminal law, biology, chemistry, and other natural science courses, while the core courses within this type of degree program are typically focused on:
- Fingerprint Evidence
- Computers and Crime Investigation
- Trace Evidence
- Report Writing
- Crime Scene Photography
- Blood Stain Patterns
Individuals who possess bachelor’s degree in CSI are able to: demonstrate strong investigative and technical skills; measure and analyze materials and chemicals found at crime scenes; prepare reports and information for investigative documentation; and consult with other experts when interpreting evidence.
CSI Master’s Degree
A graduate degree is often reserved for individuals who want to focus their careers and specialize in a specific area of crime scene investigation. Master’s degrees in crime scene investigation do not exist; therefore, many CSI specialists choose to study forensics at the graduate level. A master’s degree in forensics emphasizes work in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and research science.
In addition, individuals with an undergraduate degree in a natural science may choose a master’s degree that focuses on forensics as to achieve higher-ranking positions in this profession. It is quite common for students in a forensics master’s program to focus their work on:
- Forensic anthropology
- Forensic odontology
- Forensic botany
- Forensic analysis
- Forensic DNA
- Forensic engineering
- Criminal science