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What is a Forensic Lab Technician?

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Forensic lab technicians, as the title suggests, are professionals involved in technical work inside a forensic laboratory. Much of their work involves preparing and analyzing samples as to support forensic research, although they are also often engaged in quality control and quality assurance checks on laboratory equipment and instruments.

The work of forensic lab technicians involves applying a body of knowledge related to laboratory methods, policies, procedures, regulations, and practices when processing evidence for criminal and civil investigations.

The majority of forensic lab technicians work in county, city and state police laboratories, although some of these professionals may also work for governmental agencies or private laboratories.

Forensic Lab Technician Job Description

Depending on such factors as experience, education and job level, forensic lab technicians may perform some or all of the following duties within the forensic laboratory:

  • Perform biological, chemical, hematological, serological or physical analyses on a variety of samples obtained at crime scenes
  • Operate, adjust and maintain scientific instruments
  • Prepare reagents and media
  • Record samples and other pertinent information
  • Receive and log evidence
  • Return evidence to the appropriate agency
  • Prepare exhibits and specimens for testing
  • Prepare and package biohazard wastes and materials for external disposal
  • Perform tests and analyses under the direction of forensic scientists
  • Monitor and maintain an inventory of supplies for laboratory use
  • Maintain technical records and prepare reports
  • Enter appropriate data and information into automated forensic databases, including the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)
  • Schedule and oversee the maintenance or calibration of laboratory equipment

Forensic science technicians play an important role in a laboratory, as they ensure that evidence is not compromised and that the rules and regulations within the laboratory are followed at all times. Their duties help forensic scientists conduct crime tests and analyses in a timely fashion.

Although forensic lab technicians perform most of their work inside the laboratory, they may also be called to a crime scene to collect and mark evidence and take it back to the lab for testing.

Education for Forensic Lab Technicians

Most forensic lab technicians complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or a training program in forensics. Many forensic lab technicians go on to pursue forensic scientist positions; therefore, four-year degrees in this field are commonplace.

Because a career as a forensic lab technician involves a combination of laboratory and analytical skills, bachelor degrees in biology, chemistry, toxicology, analytical chemistry, physics, forensic sciences, or criminal justice fields are often pursued, although certificate programs and associate degrees may also be adequate for smaller forensic laboratory operations or entry-level forensic lab technician jobs.

Regardless of the degree earned, most employers seek candidates who complete programs that are accredited through the AAFS Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

Common coursework in these programs includes: biological science, microbiology, mathematics, and statistics.

Further, it is common for new forensic lab technicians to undergo extensive, on-the-job training under the direction of a senior forensic lab technician or scientist before they are permitted to work on an independent level. Training may last six months to a year.

Professional Certification for Forensic Lab Technicians

Like many other professionals in the forensic sciences field, professional certification is often sought by forensic lab technicians interested in demonstrating a commitment to their field and staying current on the latest developments in the field.

American Medical Technologists offers certification as a medical lab technician or a medical technologist.  To qualify to take the appropriate AMT exam and achieve certification, individuals must:

  • Medical lab technicians must have an associate’s degree in medical laboratory technology or at least 60 semester hours of courses through a recognized regional or national accreditation agency.
  • Medical lab technologists must have a bachelor’s degree in medical technology and at least 35 semester hours of coursework in subjects related to clinical laboratory sciences, such as organic chemistry, biological science, microbiology, biochemistry, and mathematics, among others.

Salary Statistics for Forensic Lab Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science technicians earned a mean annual salary of $55,730 as of May 2012, with the top 10 percent earning more than $85,210.

The top-paying industries for forensic science technicians during the same time were:

  1. Federal executive branch: $94,800
  2. Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $66,390
  3. Architectural, engineering, and related services: $61,680
  4. Local government: $55,950
  5. State government: $51,100

States with the highest employment level for forensic science technicians, as of May 2012, included:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Texas
  4. Arizona
  5. Maryland

The top-paying states for forensic science technicians included:

  1. District of Columbia: $73,010
  2. California: $72,000
  3. Michigan: $70,650
  4. Massachusetts: $69,360
  5. Virginia: $66,360

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