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Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in Pennsylvania

In 2012 alone there were 706 murders and 15,732 robberies, reported in the state of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, various law enforcement agencies – including the Pennsylvania State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department – employ crime scene investigators to help gather evidence related to these crimes. The requirements for becoming a CSI professional may vary from one locality in Pennsylvania to another, but there are certain general recommendations that will increase an aspirant’s chances of entering this exciting career field.

The first thing to keep in mind is that while being a crime scene investigator may be an exciting career, it is serious work.  The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 7.7 percent, meaning there is likely to be stiff completion in the job market. Being a competent CSI professional, or forensic science technician as they are otherwise known, may require long hours, the ability to pay attention to the minutest detail, and even the ability to handle gruesome crime scenes.  Crime scene investigators also tend to be people who actually visit the scene, walk the scene, and process evidence. It is worth noting that witnesses are also important sources of evidence, and that being personable in demeanor could be a great help.

Employers of crime scene investigators in Pennsylvania include:

  • Pennsylvania State Police
    • Forensic Services Unit
  • Pittsburgh Police
    • Mobile Crime Unit
  • Scranton Police
    • Crime Scene Investigation Unit
  • Philadelphia Police
    • Crime Scene Investigation Unit
  • Harrisburg Police Department
    • Criminal Investigation Division

The following information will explain the best way to develop the technical and educational background to meet qualifications for becoming a crime scene investigator in Pennsylvania.

Become Familiar with the Requirements

Education is the backbone of both entry and advancement in the field of crime scene investigations. This is because crime scene investigation techniques rely on a variety of both old and new, with modern technology and scientific advances playing an increasingly important role. The most common way to get a firm hold of many of the techniques, terminology, and the atmosphere of the crime scene investigations career is to get a bachelor’s degree.

For example, to become a CSI professional with the Pennsylvania State Police the following requirements must be met:

  • Bachelor’s Degree with forensic science major being preferred
  • Pass all requirements to become a PA State Trooper including
    1. Drug Testing
    2. Background Test
    3. Aptitude test

CSI Related Degree Programs Available in Pennsylvania

Although there are a few law enforcement agencies that hire CSI officers without degrees, these cases are very few. Currently, most successful CSI professionals are all holders of bachelor’s degrees in various sciences relevant to their fields of specialty. Forensic science degrees have an emphasis on interdisciplinary coursework such as biochemistry, molecular biology, and criminal justice, and are highly preferred in the industry. Most students who undertake a forensic science program also focus on a specific discipline or specialty like DNA profiling, fingerprint analysis, or toxicology. These specialties work in conjunction with education on evidence retrieval and documentation techniques.

A Bachelor’s degree course load which would help secure a CSI position in Pennsylvania might include courses such as:

  • Forensic science
  • Forensic chemistry
  • forensic anthropology
  • Forensic biology
  • Criminal Justice

Law Enforcement Experience

Experience working as a law enforcement officer is another great way to prepare for a career in crime scene investigations. This would apply primarily to police officers, but certain lab technicians and even military personnel may fall under this category as well. The key is to be able to show how previous experience relates to the career of crime scene investigations.  This is a key requirement that is looked at very favorably during the process of recruiting CSI officers.  In fact, as can be seen above, one has to pass all state trooper requirements in order to become a CSI professional with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Law enforcement skills which may be obtained on the job include basic crime scene photography, investigation techniques, and the rules of evidence. All of these would be helpful in obtaining employment as a CSI. In fact, many police departments and jurisdictional offices also require applicants to pass a law enforcement background investigation.

Certification

Having a certification in a CSI related area of study is another way to show potential employers that the applicant is serious about entering the CSI career. Though there are many certification programs, some are more prestigious than others. For example, in order to get certified by the International Association of Investigation’s Pennsylvania Division. It is required to have at least twelve months experience of work in any law enforcement department that is linked to crime scene.  This certification is also only provided after successful completion of the IAI certification test with a minimum of 75% and is valid for a few years between 3 to 5 years. Requirements for this type of certification include specific proof with information of previously working experience and educational background relevant to the field of specialty.

Also, the Pennsylvania State Police offers a series of courses for law enforcement officers or those who are employees of law enforcement departments and have a job with duties related to forensics. These courses, which can be accessed here, include:

  • Basic Crime Scene Investigation
  • Digital Photography
  • Shoe and Tire Impression Evidence

Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Pennsylvania

According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a forensic scientist in Pennsylvania was $61,000 in the year between September 2012 and October 2013.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that the 70 forensic science technicians in the Philadelphia metropolitan area made an average of $46,700 in 2012.  Experienced technicians in the 90th percentile made $57,990.

Salaries for several specific forensic scientist positions are available.  One such position in Philadelphia paid $39,520 a year as a starting salary.  Forensic scientist trainees for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania made a starting wage of $50,533 to $63,009 in 2013.

According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry, six jobs for forensic science technicians were advertised in the state on October 7, 2013.  Four were in Montgomery County, while two were in Philadelphia County.

A number of forensic science technicians work as crime scene investigators (CSIs).  They perform their work in the field—documenting the crime scene and collecting evidence to be analyzed further in the lab.

While some CSIs are civilians, others are enlisted personnel.  In addition, depending on the size of the department, some CSIs are crime scene analysts—processing the whole site—while others have specific functions such as:

  • Latent fingerprint analysis
  • Blood pattern analysis
  • Analyzing impressions from tires or shoes

As with most forensic science positions, the salaries of CSIs can vary widely.  The individual’s level of education and experience contributes a great deal to determining their pay range.  Indeed.com gave the average Pennsylvania crime scene investigator salary from the year preceding October 2013 as being $53,000.

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

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Philadelphia PA Metropolitan Division
70
46700
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD
100
48230

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