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Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in Iowa

Becoming a crime scene investigator in Iowa takes a special kind of person. Not only is it necessary to work with meticulous attention to detail in challenging environments that periodically involve gruesome, tragic crime scenes – and later testify about them in court – CSI agents must also have the brains and educational willpower to competitively complete the rigorous education and training requirements mandated by their employing public safety agencies. Information about agency-specific CSI training and certification courses is available through municipal and state organizations such as:

  • Sioux City Police Department
  • Davenport Police Department
  • Iowa Department of Public Safety headquartered in Des Moines
  • Cedar Rapids Police Department

CSI jobs in Iowa are filled by competent professionals who have the skills and training to carry out their job duties with a level of expertise that allows evidence to stand up as evidence in a court of law.

Crime Scene Investigator Education and Training

Certification and Training

There are two CSI career paths interested candidates can follow to prepare for jobs in the field:

  • Going in to general law enforcement employment and moving later into a specialized CSI position
  • Obtaining training in a particular CSI field and entering directly into forensic careers.

Crime scene investigators can choose among a variety of specializations for Iowa CSI certification:

  • DNA analysis
  • Footprint and tread identification
  • Latent fingerprint identification
  • Ballistics
  • Biological evidence collection
  • Fire and arson analysis
  • Drug/chemical analysis and collection

CSI Schools and Colleges

There are a number of CSI colleges and schools in Iowa – public, private, not-for-profit, and online – that offer relevant degree programs for prospective crime scene investigators. Agencies look for CSI candidates with a combination of years of experience and education equivalent to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the following subject areas:

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Biology
  • Forensics
  • Biochemistry

Candidates with an eye on career advancement beyond technician and basic analyst positions should consider obtaining at least a bachelor certificate as these are required for the more senior posts. For example, to become a special agent with the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation requires a candidate to meet one of the following conditions:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree
  • Possess an associate’s degree and have three years of law enforcement experience
  • Have five years of law enforcement experience

Cracking Cold Cases in Iowa

An exemplary case of why good CSI work is essential was recently in the Iowa news as a man was arrested on charges relating to a 38-year-old murder case. CSI officers were called to a rural farmhouse outside Blakesburg in 1974 upon the discovery of a 17-year-old young woman’s body. Investigators determined she had died from gunshot wounds as well as having been sexually assaulted, and were able to gather evidence that was stored in the state’s Crime Laboratory. Using modern technology, CSI agents were able to link the arrested suspect to the victim using DNA evidence and computer networks.

In another recent case that started out as being classified as suspicious, crime scene investigators ruled that in fact they were dealing with a murder after spending nearly 40 hours investigating the cordoned-off apartment complex crime scene. CSI agents were able to follow up on a small clue they found near the apartment that led police to a man whom they were forced to taser into submission for questioning, and who was then taken into custody as the principal suspect in the case.


Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Iowa

One hundred forensic science technicians were employed in Iowa in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Annual median salaries, along with those in the top tenth percentile of their wage bracket, are listed below:

Iowa City
Average Annual Salary
Iowa-statewide
$59180
Des Moines
$62890

Seventy percent of the state’s forensic scientists were located in the Des Moines area in 2012, according to the BLS.  A large employer in the area is the Criminalist Laboratory of Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).  It is located in Ankeny, which is part of the Des Moines metropolitan statistical area (MSA).

A number of forensic scientists are crime scene investigators (CSIs).  Unlike forensic lab technicians, they work at crime scenes documenting the site and processing physical evidence to be analyzed later.

The wages for CSIs vary widely, depending on the level of experience and the type of position.  Some crime scene investigator work is done by detectives who work a case from the scene of the crime to the final determination in court.  In other cases, CSIs are civilian employees.

Some CSIs specialize in particular aspects of crime scenes.  They may analyze weapons, tire impressions, or latent fingerprints.  Other crime scene technicians process the whole site.  The average crime scene investigator salary in the year leading uup to October 2013 was $55,000 according to Indeed.com.

The BLS provides a detailed breakdown of hourly and annual salary percentiles for forensic science technicians throughout Iowa in 2012.  This data is shown in the following table:

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Des Moines-West Des Moines IA
70
63190
Omaha-Council Bluffs NE-IA
50
49710

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The violent crime rate in Cedar Rapids is 18 percent higher than the state average in Iowa and based on current trends, by the end of 2013 it is projected that there will be nearly 260 aggravated assaults, 25 forcible rapes, and 142 murders. These numbers are significant considering the relatively small population of Cedar Rapids.

Crime Scene Investigator or Forensic Laboratory Scientist – Which Career to Pursue?

There is a common misconception regarding the difference between a crime scene investigator and a forensic scientist. Many people confuse the two as being synonymous but they are not quite the same. Crime scene investigators, as the title implies, work on-site at crime scenes and collaborate with forensic technicians to locate, collect, catalogue, and store physical evidence. Forensic laboratory scientists work primarily in a crime lab running tests on and analyzing that evidence, which can include everything from hair to bodily fluids such as blood and saliva to fibers of various kinds.

To further illustrate how a crime scene investigator and forensic laboratory scientist work together, consider the murder case of Judith Weeks. Weeks was found dead near an apartment building on Second Ave. SE. in Cedar Rapids in 1999. The case went cold and no one was prosecuted for the crime. But, in 2013, there was a break in the case and a suspect was arrested. A family member of Weeks’ said that DNA evidence helped with identifying the suspect. In this case the crime scene investigator would likely have collected evidence at the scene, including the DNA evidence. The forensic scientist would receive this evidence and check it against a national database, local databases, and the DNA of any suspects. As can be seen, the job done by these professionals can have ramifications for years after the initial work is done.

Educational Requirements for CSI Professionals in Cedar Rapids

Due to the competitive nature of entrance in the field of CSI, aspirants are encouraged to obtain a university degree that can help facilitate entry into the field.

Universities and community colleges in Cedar Rapids and around the state of Iowa offer degree programs in CSI-specific areas of study such as:

  • Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigations or Forensics
  • Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice with emphasis in Police Science
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigations or Forensics
  • Bachelor’s in Forensic Science

There are over 30 schools in Iowa at which students can study for a career in criminal justice. Not all of them offer degree programs specific to crime scene investigations, but those that don’t still offer extensive coursework in criminology, criminalistics, natural sciences, and various forensic sciences.

Applying for Jobs as a Crime Scene Investigator in Cedar Rapids

It is important to keep in mind just how competitive this career path has become. It can be extremely challenging for new applicants fresh out of school to land exactly the job they want in criminal investigations. It is an employer’s market and law enforcement agencies in Cedar Rapids have the upper hand in terms of who they choose to hire. Since the pool of qualified applicants is so extensive, these agencies hire only the best candidates who demonstrate the most passionate desire, skillful capability, and extensive knowledge base.

One of the most helpful steps an aspirant can take is to begin networking with members of the law enforcement community in Cedar Rapids even before graduation. Doing volunteer work in any capacity at a local police precinct, or simply requesting to “ride along” with investigators on a strictly observational basis, are invaluable ways to get acclimated to the world of investigative work.  It also helps to demonstrate to those who make hiring decisions the aspirant has the desire to become a CSI in Cedar Rapids.

Some of the law enforcement agencies in Cedar Rapids that hire CSIs include:

  • The Cedar Rapids Police Department – The Criminal Investigative Division includes the Crime Scene Unit which is responsible for carrying out all crime scene related activities.
  • The Iowa State Patrol – Houses the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations with jurisdiction in Zone 4 of Southeastern Iowa

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Davenport, Iowa

In 2010 the violent crime rate in Davenport was nearly 110 percent higher than the national average for violent crimes, and nearly 210 percent higher than the violent crime rate in the state of Iowa as a whole. The law enforcement community in Davenport must work hard night and day to try to keep criminal activity at bay, but there is always work that needs to be done. Forensic laboratory science technicians and crime scene investigators do a significant part of that law enforcement work.

Crime scene investigators and lab technicians play an integral part in the fight against the criminal element in Davenport. Field agents actually visit the crime scene and scour for evidence or other clues. CSI agents may also conduct interviews of witnesses and do police sketches. Any evidence that needs to be further analyzed, such as hair or skin samples, will then be passed to the lab scientist who conducts such analysis and then reports back. The work of a CSI professional is critical in tracking down and prosecuting violent offenders.  Without it, the rate of violent crime in Davenport would undoubtedly be much higher.

In order to get a good idea of the jobs done by CSI field agents and lab professionals, consider the following case. In late 2013, the body of a Davenport man, who had been missing for two weeks, was found. Law Enforcement first suspected he died of natural causes or an accident, but later decided to exhume the body after receiving a tip that the man had been murdered. CSI agents have the job of checking such a body, and the crime scene, for evidence, which will then be sent to the lab for analysis.

Requirements for Crime Scene Investigations and Forensic Lab Science Jobs in Davenport

There are a number of degree programs offered at universities and community colleges in Davenport that feature coursework directly related to crime scene investigations and that will help in qualification and preparation for a career as a CSI or forensic lab professional. Additional study options may also be found by looking for online study programs.

Some of the relevant degree programs to look into for those wishing to become a crime scene investigator in Davenport include:

  • Forensic Science
  • Molecular Biology
  • Criminal Justice with an emphasis or specialty in crime scene investigations
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

Certification Options

A suggestion for anyone who is serious about entering the field of CSI is to become certified in various disciplines that are relevant to the field. Certification is granted through organizations such as the International Association for Identification, Iowa Division and requires the following:

For certification as a Crime Scene Investigator:

  • At least one full year performing crime scene-related activities in an official capacity with a recognized and authorized law enforcement organization.
  • Completion of at least 48 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses within the last five years that have been approved by the Crime Scene Certification Board

For certification as a Crime Scene Analyst:

  • At least three full years performing crime scene-related activities in an official capacity with a recognized and authorized law enforcement organization.
  • Completion of at least 96 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses within the last five years that have been approved by the Crime Scene Certification Board

Forensic Science Jobs in Davenport

The jobs of CSI field agent and lab technician are not for everyone. Skills which are important to a successful career in CSI include:

  • Strong sense of justice
  • Strong skills in analytical thinking
  • Good public relations (field agents)
  • Ability to work long hours alone (lab techs)
  • Ability to supervise and motivate one’s self

All CSI and lab technician positions in Davenport are not sworn officer positions. These positions may be sworn or civilian, depending on the department.

There are several ways to enter into the field of CSI in Davenport. One of the primary ways is to join a police force in order to gain the skills and experience necessary to successfully perform the functions of the position. While this is definitely a worthwhile way to enter the field, having at least an associate’s degree in a relevant area of study can help significantly.

Some of the law enforcement agencies in Davenport that hire forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators include:

  • The Davenport Police Department – The Tactical Operations Bureau within the Criminal Investigation Division in the DPD is responsible for crime scene technical and analytical duties.
  • The City of Davenport Services Division – The Crime Scene Unit within the Identification Bureau of the CDSD is responsible for crime scene investigative duties.
  • Iowa State Patrol – Founded in 1935, this police department patrols the roads of the entire state, including Davenport. CSI agents with the ISP may see more work in car accident related cases.

The Davenport Police Department in particular hires crime scene technicians and requires the following qualifications for candidates interested in applying for a position within their department:

  • Associate’s Degree in physical science, photography, law enforcement, or criminal or forensic science
  • Uncorrected vision of no less than 20/100 in both eyes corrected to 20/20 and color vision in accord with the demands of law enforcement
  • A valid Iowa driver’s license
  • Oral and written communication skills

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Des Moines, Iowa

In Des Moines, the rate of violent crime, which includes murder, rape, and robbery, was more than 30 percent higher than the national average in 2010.  In that year violent crime in Des Moines was also almost 94 percent higher than that state average for Iowa as a whole. The city of Des Moines has seen an increase in the number of murders committed in three out of the last five years and the trend seems to be increasing. That being the case, there is a growing need for qualified crime scene investigators in the field, as well as forensic lab scientists who help in the capture and prosecution of criminals who commit these kinds of crimes.

CSI professionals have a demanding profession that can require personal sacrifice. While gathering evidence, taking statements, and working in the lab, CSI professionals can expect to work long hours.  Since crime can happen at any time, they may need to be available and on-call 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. For example, in Des Moines temperatures often get down to below freezing in winter, and sometimes even go below zero degrees. Despite the hardship it would present, a CSI professional may be called to work outdoors under such conditions.

Also, it should be noted that some of the cases which face a CSI professional can be truly heartbreaking, such as the 2012 case of Stanley Michael Golinsky, who was described as a nice and caring man. He was found dead under a railroad bridge in Des Moines. The case that has since gone cold.

Educational Requirements for CSI Professionals in Des Moines

Education is the key to becoming proficient in a profession as demanding as forensic science. Des Moines is home to a number of colleges and universities which can help in preparation for a career in CSI, and others can be found online. Earning a bachelor’s degree is one of the best ways to enter the field of crime scene investigations or forensic lab science.

There are certain degree programs that are directly relevant to CSI work available in Des Moines. These degree programs tend to be science based and include:

  • Forensic Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

Des Moines is somewhat unique in relation to other cities when it comes to crime scene investigation training. There are community colleges that offer courses in criminal investigation in conjunction with concentrations in law enforcement. Other CSI-specific courses include:

  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Impressions and Bloodstains
  • Scientific Investigation

Entering the Police Force

Entering directly into the police force in order to work one’s way up to becoming a CSI field agent or lab scientist is another avenue which can result in success. One could also decide to enter the police force after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree.

Police agencies in Des Moines that hire crime scene investigators include:

  • The Des Moines Police Department – This is the largest law enforcement agency in the state of Iowa, as well as the most urban. Consisting of 379 sworn officers, and over 110 civilian support personnel, CSI professionals with the Des Moines PD are likely to see the majority of violent crime activity which occurs in the state.
  • The Iowa State Division of Criminal Investigations – Since 1921 the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has provided Iowa law enforcement with support and expertise.
  • The Polk County Sheriff’s Office – This police department is responsible for law enforcement including courtroom protection, and processing civil and criminal paperwork such as court orders.

Becoming an officer with any of the above police departments could be a good way to get a foot into the door of law enforcement, as well as learn a lot about the law enforcement culture in Des Moines. However, it should be advised that becoming a police officer is not always an easy affair, and there may be many hurdles and obstacles to being accepted to the police force.

For example, to qualify for the Des Moines Police Department the applicant must (among other things):

  • Pass a background check (felonies, excessive drug and alcohol use are disqualifiers)
  • Pass a polygraph
  • Pass a through physical examination

Ongoing Education and Certification

Those who are serious about their career as a crime scene professional in Des Moines should give careful and serious consideration to joining an industry association, such as the International Association for Identification, Iowa Division. The complexities of CSI work are such that the technology and methodology is constantly being developed and improved which calls for CSI professionals to continually upgrade their knowledge base. Pursuing a master’s degree in one of the degree programs listed above and/or pursuing certification in a specific area of CSI work are both highly recommended courses of action for those in the field of forensic science. Certification is available in areas such as:

  • Crime Scene Analysis
  • Crime Scene Reconstruction
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

The IAI also has a series of conferences which they produce every year across the country. Additionally, the organization’s website and network structure may prove invaluable for those who wish to find a job as a CSI professional, whether field or lab, in Des Moines.

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