The Emmy-winning TV show, “CSI: Miami” (2002-2012) brought Florida crime scene investigators (CSIs) to the forefront. Although the 1,450 real CSIs working in Florida do not take part in high-speed chases and wild shoot-outs like they do in the TV series, these scientific investigators often provide the crucial evidence that determines a suspect’s guilt or innocence.
Crime scene investigators collect, evaluate, preserve, document and analyze evidence found at crime scenes, including latent and patent fingerprints, hair, fibers, nail clippings, human tissue, blood, fibers, glass, paint and even insects. They photograph, sketch and often reconstruct the scene. The job demands very specific knowledge and skills.
Crime Scene Investigator Schools in Florida
There is an abundance of schools in Florida, as well as numerous accredited online institutions, that offer certificate or degree programs in crime scene investigation or forensic science. The Forensic Educational Programs Accreditation Commission of the American Academy of Forensic Science sets minimum standards for accreditation.
One Florida university offers a unique certificate program in “Underwater CSI” in which students learn to apply scientific methods and techniques to the collection of evidence at underwater crime scenes. Special attention is given to safety and legal issues related to underwater environments. Enhanced dive technology and skills allow for prolonged investigation periods.
The CSI Academy of Florida is a 28,000 square foot facility in Alachua, FL that boasts 15 crime scene rooms for mock reenactments. The academy’s seven-week, 300-hour intensive program for individuals seeking a CSI career concludes with a two-day, indoor-outdoor, major crime scene final examination. The school also offers continuing education classes in such subjects as:
- Crime Scene Photography
- Identification of Human Remains
- Blood Splatter Analysis
- Casting Techniques
- Crime Scene Ethics
- Report Writing
- Trace Evidence
- Alternate Light Sources
Classes consist of 30 percent lecture material and 70 percent hands-on training. Crime scene investigators can earn 40 hours credit toward CSI certification offered by the International Association for Identification (IAI). Applicants need at least one year full-time crime-scene experience and completion of 48 hours of CSI Certification Board-approved courses in the last five years.
Requirements for Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator in Florida
The qualifications for getting a crime scene investigator job in Florida differ somewhat between employers and locations; however, knowledge of science and scientific methods is essential. Some openings only require an associate’s degree or a CSI certificate but a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry or criminal justice gives the applicant a better chance of being hired. Experience is important although extensive on-the-job training is the norm for entry-level positions. Other requirements may include:
- Valid driver’s license
- Background check
- No felony convictions
- Ability to operate video and camera equipment
- Excellent oral and written communication skills
- Computer proficiency
- No history of drug/alcohol abuse
- Willingness to work nights, weekends and holidays
- Physically fit
- Mentally able to handle gruesome scenes
City Crime Scene Investigation Units in Florida
The Miami Police Department Crime Scene Investigation Unit, a section of the Criminal Investigation Division, uses civilian CSIs to support criminal investigations throughout the city of Miami. It employs 20 highly-skilled CSIs and four shift supervisors as well as both a forensic unit supervisor and a forensic unit manager who are all on call 24/7. The unit also has eight vans and a mobile crime scene lab that has exterior lighting capabilities and is fully equipped for a wide variety of crime scenes. Miami has a latent print detail and a photo lab detail equipped with the latest technological advances for both identifying latent fingerprints and developing, printing and digitizing photographs.
The Tampa Forensic Investigation Unit employs four types of technicians:
- Crime Scene Technicians – provide mobile crime scene services at major crime scenes. They collect, process, classify and preserve all manner of evidence and are often called upon to testify in court.
- Latent Fingerprint Technicians – Evaluate and identify late t fingerprints lifted at crime scenes.
- Photo Lab Technicians – Download, develop, print and maintain crime-scene photographs.
- Office Support Specialists – Quantify data and maintain records.
Unlike Miami and Tampa, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit employs only sworn officers who have served at least three years on patrol before applying for the unit. Those accepted attend an intensive field training program in crime scene investigation techniques. The unit utilizes the most advanced equipment, including trajectory lasers, alternate light sources, electrostatic dust print lift kits and forensic laser mapping systems.
Job Outlook and Salaries for CSIs in Florida
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for CSIs is good, with an expected 20 percent growth in jobs by 2018. CSI Employment opportunities are reportedly better in Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach than in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The annual mean salary for CSI in Florida is $46,850. Salaries for specific cities are:
- Miami/Fort Lauderdale: $58,970
- Orlando: $44,550
- West Palm Beach: $51,700
- Tallahassee: $37,170
- Pensacola: $40,370