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Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in Washington, DC

Washington D.C. was in the news recently because of a mass shooting that left 13 people dead at the DC Navy Yard. The government building was closed as crime scene investigators (CSIs) carried out the massive job of collecting evidence from the incredibly large crime scene.

October 2012 marked the grand opening of the Consolidated Forensic Lab in DC, a $220 million, 351,000 square foot state-of-the-arts forensic lab that replaced the Metropolitan Police Department’s forensic lab, the DC Public Health Lab and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner all under one roof. The U.S. Green Building Council granted the magnificent facility LEED Platinum Building certification for meeting energy, water efficiency and indoor environment sustainable building standards.

The plan is to hire more civilian CSIs to relieve the burden of crime scene investigations from DC police officers. Max Houck, director of the newly formed Department of Forensic Services, said he sees the lab becoming a training ground that will partner with local universities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CSIs in DC are the highest paid in the nation, earning an annual mean wage of $94,629, or $45.49/hour.

Elsewhere in the nation CSIs earn an average mean wage of between $37,960 and $99,980 with a median of $62,110. In general, local government jobs pay more than state government positions but federal jobs pay the most.

Requirements for Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator in Washington, DC

A love of science and math, mixed with a strong dose of intellectual curiosity, is a prerequisite for a successful career as a CSI. CSIs collect and analyze blood, hair, bodily fluids and fibers (chemistry) but also analyze firearms trajectories and the angle of blows (math). Although some entry-level crime scene investigator jobs in DC are open to individuals with an associate’s degree, most jobs require a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology or a related field.

Other abilities/characteristics useful for a CSI career include:

  • Detail oriented
  • Patient
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Physically fit
  • Willing to work long hours
  • Able and willing to work weekends and holidays

DC Schools with Degree Programs in Crime Scene Investigation

There are six schools near (and one in) DC with CSI programs from which 126 students graduated in 2010, 140 with bachelor’s degrees and 85 with master’s degrees.

CSI training programs in DC utilize state-of-the-art scientific principles and equipment for simulated crime scene exercises during which time students use digital photography to record evidence. They learn to collect/process fingerprints, shoeprints, blood spatters, fibers and analyze firearms trajectories. The program includes a visit to NCIS where special agents demonstrate their forensic know-how.

National Museum of Crime and Punishment

This popular Washington tourist attraction also offers a variety of CSI-oriented workshops that provide the public and persons considering a CSI career a genuine look at the work of a crime scene investigator. One workshop, “CSI: TV v. Reality,” points out misconceptions and erroneous scientific facts portrayed on fictional TV shows. Other workshop topics are:

  • Blood and DNA
  • Fingerprints
  • Autopsies
  • Bones
  • Firearms/Ballistics

Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Washington, DC

The District of Columbia is one of the powerhouses of forensic science employment in the country.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average 2012 annual salary for forensic science technicians in DC is higher than all of the U.S. states.  It was $73,010 with experienced professionals averaging $106,300.

Washington, DC also has a high concentration of forensic science jobs based on its population.  It has more jobs per employee than all of the states in the country.  One out of every 2,500 employees in the district is a forensic scientist.

In DC, this occupation is considered as having one of the highest growth rates.  The DC’s Department of Employment Services projects forensic science technician jobs to increase 3.77% from 2006 to 2016.

The Washington, DC metropolitan area, including DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia had the fifth highest rate of pay of any metropolitan area in the country.  The average salary in 2012 was $74,500 while experienced professionals made $112,230 a year.  In 2013, a forensic toxicologist for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in DC made from $52,024 to $67,081 a year.

A significant number of forensic scientists specialize in investigating crime scenes.  It is vital for investigations to have experienced professionals documenting the scene of the crime and collecting physical evidence for further analysis.

There are a number of different types of positions for crime scene investigators (CSIs).  In some cases, highly trained detectives specialize in forensic analysis and work a crime from the crime scene to the court.  In other cases, law enforcement agencies hire civilian employees as crime scene technicians or criminalists.

DC is unusual in having an independent Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS).  It was the first independent forensic agency created since the publication of a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences.  This report emphasized the need for forensic science agencies to operate independently from law enforcement.  Crime scene supervisors for the DFS made from $91,201 to $127,682 a year in 2013.

The BLS provides a breakdown of annual and hourly forensic science technician salaries in DC by percentile for 2012.  It is shown in the following table:

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division
420
74500
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria DC-VA-MD-WV
690
73830

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