Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in Montana

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 forensic scientists worked in Montana in 2012.  They earned $56,450 a year.  Among these scientists are crime scene technicians (CSIs).  These forensic scientists specialize in documenting crime scenes and preserving evidence for further analysis back in a crime lab.  On call 24/7, hallmarks of these professionals include having a strong scientific training, attention to detail, and the ability to stay composed at crime scenes.

Montana Crime Scene Investigation Units

90% of CSIs work for the government, and Montana is no exception.  Most of the CSIs in the state are employed by state or local law enforcement agencies.  Some of the agencies that employ CSIs include the following:

  • Missoula Police Department
    • Evidence and Identification Section of the Detective Division
  • Great Falls Police Department
    • Investigative Services Bureau
    • Montana Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI)

The Montana Department of Justice’s DCI has the state’s premier crime lab located in Billings.  In addition to performing analyses of evidence in the lab, their forensic scientists provide assistance to law enforcement agencies that need help preserving evidence from crime scenes.  This is often one of the most urgent requests that they receive.

CSI Education and Training in Montana

The level of education and training can vary greatly for CSIs depending on whether they are civilian positions such as police evidence technicians or whether they are detectives with years of investigative experience who have training in forensics.

In Montana, to become a civilian CSI generally requires a high school diploma or GED.  Experience is preferred.  Since the popular media has generated a strong interest in the CSI field, there is a lot of competition for these types of jobs.  Applicants can distinguish themselves by having formal college training in CSI.  Frequently, this can be obtained through a specialty from an education in criminal justice.

Prospective students in Montana can obtain a bachelor’s degree specializing in criminology from a school in Montana.  Other options include pursuing a degree in criminal justice from one of the accredited online schools that offers studies in this field.

CSIs who are sworn officers will have to meet the standards to be accepted by a law enforcement agency and undergo academy training.  Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can also help these professionals gain employment.  Generally, these officers will have to serve for several years before being chosen for further training in forensics.

CSI Certification in Montana

Professional forensic scientists in Montana have several options to join organizations that promote training in their field.  One choice is the Montana Violent Crime Investigators Association.  This network of Montana law enforcement officers emphasizes training in several areas, among them crime scene techniques.

Another option is to join the International Association of Identification.  This worldwide forensic organization offers certification to professionals who have obtained a high level of skill in such areas as:

  • Blood pattern analysis
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Forensic art and video

Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Montana

Forty forensic science technicians worked in Montana in 2012 according to information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  They made an average salary of $56,450 in 2012 with those in the top tenth percent of their field making an average of $74,770.  The Montana Department of Labor & Industry predicts that two jobs a year will open up through 2021.

Many of the forensic science jobs in Montana are with the Montana State Crime lab that is run by the Montana Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Forensic Science Division.  The lab has a number of sections that specialize in the following areas:

  • Breath alcohol
  • Drug chemistry
  • Firearms and toolmarks
  • Latent prints and impressions
  • Serology/DNA
  • Toxicology
  • Trace evidence

A position as a DOJ forensic scientist in Missoula paid $50,233 to 58,344 a year in 2013.

In addition to work in the lab, some forensic scientists travel to crime scenes to document them and collect physical evidence for further lab analysis.  This is the case for some of the forensic scientists with the State Crime Lab.  They provide assistance to law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

While many CSIs work as civilians, others are sworn officers with many years of investigative experience who work a crime from the site of the initial crime all the way through the trial.

Because of the differences in the types of jobs and the backgrounds of CSIs, their salaries can be highly variable.  The average salary of a crime scene investigator in Montana was $46,000 in the one year period leading up to October 2013 according to Indeed.com.


CSI and Forensic Scientist in Billings, Montana

The Billings Police Department works in cooperation with the Department of Justice Forensic Science Division’s State Crime Lab to gather and analyze the best evidence for use in prosecution, defense, and exoneration. Detectives, as part of the police department’s Investigations Division, are specially trained and educated CSI personnel who work with officers to professionally collect evidence that will be delivered to the State Crime Lab for analysis by expert forensic professionals in a controlled environment. CSI detectives with the Billings PD also assist the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office as needed.

Preparing for Careers in Crime Scene Investigations and Forensic Science

Researching the process of how to become a crime scene investigator and forensic scientist in Billings will reveal the differences between the two occupations. CSI detectives with the Billings Police Department are officers who have demonstrated their skills over several years and been promoted to their current positions.

Educated non-commissioned civilians who work in the state’s only crime lab in Missoula hold forensic laboratory science jobs.

The Department of Justice requires all its forensic scientists to have a solid education background in science. Candidates interested in this position will need to have a bachelor’s degree in any of the following:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Forensic Science
  • Any other closely related field

Sworn officers with the Billings PD who are interested in advancing their careers should consider additional education, especially if officers are planning on moving up through the ranks into detective-level CSI jobs. This can be accomplished by studying for a bachelor’s degree in any of the following:

  • Forensic Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Public Administration

From Getting an Education to Working in the Field or Laboratory

Billings is home to three colleges and a state university which offer relevant degree programs for CSI and forensic science careers, and this does not include several online schools with open admissions for Billings-area residents. Once candidates have the necessary education to qualify for jobs in this field they will be ready to apply and hopefully go to work.

Working with the Billings PD as a CSI detective involves close collaboration with forensic scientists at the State Crime Lab. A cold case unit was recently started in Billings, comprised of law enforcement officials who are hoping to crack at least some of the nine unsolved murder cases in Yellowstone County.

As CSI detectives uncover new clues in the cases, they hope that forensic scientists using the latest advancements in technology will be able to find new evidence that points police and prosecutors in new directions. Some of the tools used in the State Crime Lab include:

  • Medical examination by a pathologist
  • Firearms and toolmark analysis
  • Serology and DNA evaluation
  • Trace evidence categorization
  • Toxicology reports
  • Latent prints and other impressions
  • Drug and chemistry analysis

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Great Falls, Montana

Teaming up to provide the region’s best CSI forensic detectives, the Great Falls Police Department and the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office offer their services to the communities they have sworn to serve and protect. CSI forensic detectives are on-call 24 hours a day to meticulously gather crime scene evidence that will be shipped to the Department of Justice Forensic Science Division’s State Crime Lab. There it will be analyzed by forensic scientists in a controlled laboratory environment and information obtained will be relayed back to law enforcement officials based out of Great Falls. In addition to CSI detectives, the Great Falls Police Department also employs Police Evidence Technicians to assist officers in tasks such as photography and searching for physical evidence.

Learning how to become a crime scene investigator and forensic scientist in Great Falls involves meeting certain education requirements and rising above the competition for these competitive positions.

Education for CSI and Forensic Science Careers in Great Falls

Detective CSI jobs and forensic scientist positions each have their own career path. Detectives start out as commissioned officers or deputies and over the course of years are promoted to detective.

Having an associate or bachelor degree in any of the following subjects is recommended as these can facilitate an easier rise through the ranks and are taken into consideration when evaluating an officer for promotion:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Forensic Science

Police Evidence Technicians are civilian employees who can benefit from having relevant associate or bachelor degrees, but also certifications such as:

  • Crime Scene Investigator Certification
  • Evidence Analysis Certification
  • Forensic Photography Certification
  • Fingerprint Identification Certification
  • DNA Forensics Certification

Forensic science jobs with the State Crime Lab in Missoula require applicants to have a bachelor degree in one of the following areas of science:

  • Forensic Science
  • Biological Science:
    • Microbiology
    • Biochemistry
    • Molecular Biology
  • Any other closely related field

There are two primary colleges in Great Falls offering degrees in appropriate areas for prospective CSI detectives and forensic scientists. In addition to these there are also several choices for online schools offering a related forensic science degree or certification program, with open enrollment for Great Falls residents and Montanans in general.

CSI Detects and Forensic Scientists Need Cold Case Help

Despite the large arsenal of analytical tools available to forensic scientists working at the State Crime Lab, they have still been unable to solve one particular case that occurred two years ago. Crime scene detectives were called to the home of a Great Falls woman after neighbors heard a commotion inside and saw a car speeding off. Upon arrival officers discovered the woman living in the home had been murdered, and after a careful sweep of the area for evidence investigators turned over what they could find to the State Crime Lab, which used the following techniques to try and identify a suspect:

  • Firearms and toolmark specialists examined bullets and their casings removed from the scene to identify a match with any known weapons
  • Latent prints were recovered from the crime scene and entered into a national crime database
  • The scene was swept for the murderer’s serological fluids and DNA
  • Trace evidence examiners were called in to investigate any suspicious fibers, glass and hairs

Despite these efforts, detectives continue to chase down every lead hoping to find a break in the case.


CSI and Forensic Scientist in Missoula, Montana

Missoula is home to three important agencies when it comes to forensic investigations and analysis:

  • The Missoula Police Department Investigation’s Division has an Evidence and Identification Section that specializes in the collection and shipping of evidence gathered when these professionals investigate a crime scene.
  • The Missoula County Sheriff’s Department has a similar Detective Division that processes crime scenes.
  • The Department of Justice Forensic Science Division’s State Crime Lab is responsible for receiving the evidence delivered by these CSI detective units are the Crime Lab’s forensic scientists, who conduct an adept analysis and examination of every piece of evidence in a controlled environment, determining its suitability to be used in an investigation or in a courtroom.

Required Education for Forensic Laboratory and CSI Jobs in Missoula

Candidates interested in education programs for law enforcement and lab professionals involved in the forensic sciences will find two colleges and universities located in Missoula as well as a number of online schools that accept entrance applications from Missoula residents.

CSI detectives working as part of the Missoula-based sheriff and police departments started off as commissioned deputies or officers and worked their way up to their present positions. Any officer considering becoming a CSI detective one day should consider an associate or bachelor degree in one of the following subject areas:

  • Forensic Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Natural Sciences

Working in the state-of-the-art crime lab in Missoula, forensic scientists must have a bachelor in one of the following science fields:

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Any other closely related field

Forensic Laboratory Science and CSI Careers in Missoula

CSI and forensic science jobs in Missoula involve working with some of the state’s most unnerving crimes. One such case occurred 22 years ago when Missoula CSI detectives were called to the scene of a double homicide involving two married vacationers. After stopping at a campground near Lake Inez the couple was gunned down and a few items were stolen from their truck. At the time detectives could not develop any leads and carefully stored recovered evidence for later analysis.

Now forensic scientists at the Missoula State Crime Lab hope to crack this case wide open, using new advancements in technology and new methods of analysis to obtain DNA from the killer that was most likely scattered throughout the crime scene. The crime laboratory is capable of conducting any of the following:

  • Serology and DNA analysis
  • Lifting latent prints and impressions
  • Examining trace evidence such as fibers, paint, and glass
  • Analysis of drugs and other chemical residues
  • Firearms, toolmarks and ballistics evaluations

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