West Virginia has a lower crime rate than the average for the United States, posting 62 murders and 4,586 assaults in 2012. Law enforcement in the state would like to keep the crime rates down, and one of the best ways to do that is to catch criminals before they can strike again. Government agencies have an ongoing need for qualified and competent crime scene investigators who can properly and efficiently collect and document evidence, and provide thorough and detailed analysis of a crime scene and its individual elements.
Although most people are aware of the position of crime scene investigator because of the popularity of television dramas like Criminal Minds and the CSI series of shows, ‘crime scene investigator’ is not a job title that is officially recognized by the United States Department of Labor. Additionally, many West Virginia law enforcement agencies who hire CSI professionals use titles other than ‘crime scene investigator’ when referring to the position. Titles like crime scene analyst, crime scene technician, evidence technician, and forensic investigator are actually more common in the law enforcement and scientific communities than ‘crime scene investigator’.
Regardless of the specific title used, the job itself and the duties therein remain the same, and the job often involves long hours and intense, sometimes brutally gruesome crime scenes. The ability of a crime scene investigator to maintain composure and carry out the duties of the job accurately, efficiently, and thoroughly is of the utmost importance. Knowing what to look for at a crime scene, down to minutest detail, and the best ways to go about looking for it are skills that are invaluable to a CSI professional. Entire criminal cases are won or lost based on the evidence that is extracted from a crime scene, and as such crime scene investigators play an essential role in the judicial process.
In West Virginia CSI agents are hired by law enforcement agencies including:
- West Virginia State Police
- Crime Scene Response
- Charleston Police Department
- Criminal Investigation Division
- Parkersburg Police Department
- Detective Bureau
Know What is Required of You
There is no such thing as being too educated or too prepared for a career as a CSI professional. Many two- and four-year colleges and universities offer degree programs that, while they may not specify crime scene investigations, are still considered directly related to the profession and offer relevant coursework.
Each police department in the state usually makes their own guidelines as to employment requirements. Although a bachelor’s degree may not be a requirement for becoming a CSI agent in West Virginia, it is highly recommended. Specific educational requirements are dictated by the hiring agency in question, but there are some that do indeed require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of study. Some of the degree programs that relate directly to crime scene investigation include:
- Criminal Justice
- General or Molecular Biology
- Forensic Science
The last entry – forensic science – is arguably the most relevant degree major when it comes to crime scene investigation. Specializing in criminal justice or another law enforcement-related area while pursuing a forensic science degree will only help create a sharpened skill set, and further developed understanding of CSI work.
Experience in Law or Law Enforcement
For years crime scene investigator positions were almost exclusively reserved for experienced police officers who worked their way up through the ranks and eventually were promoted into the job. Over the last fifteen or so years, however, the trend has shifted toward hiring more “civilian” CSIs. But, there is still an advantage to having “on the job” training as a police officer for anyone who wishes to enter the field of CSI. There is as much a need for crime scene investigators to have law enforcement experience as a scientific background or criminal justice or legal experience. However, the applicant should be prepared to enter a competitive field when looking to enter CSI through first becoming a police officer. Though West Virginia has an unemployment rate of just 6.3 percent, well below the national average, job positions are still competitive. For example, to become a police officer with the Charleston Police the applicant must:
- Be between 18 to 40
- Have a High School diploma
- Pass a written exam
- Pass a physical ability test
- Includes push ups, sit ups, and a 1.5 mile run
- Complete a 15 week academy
Becoming a Certified Crime Scene Technician
Another way to enhance one’s career is by becoming certified as a crime scene technician. Certification in crime scene investigations can be done through organizations such as The International Association for Identification , or IAI, and has specific requirements. Generally speaking, CSIs who plan to pursue certification must have established a reputation for good moral character, high ethical standards, and integrity.
The specific requirements for Crime Scene Investigator certification include:
- Minimum of one year of direct participation in official crime scene or crime scene-related work.
- Minimum of 48 hours of instruction in crime scene or crime scene-related coursework within the last five years. All coursework must be approved by the Crime Scene Certification Board.
Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in West Virginia
Fifty forensic science technicians were employed in West Virginia in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Workforce West Virginia projects that there will be a 1.62% increase in the availability of these jobs per year in the period from 2010-2020. They also indicated that twelve establishments reported employing forensic science technicians in 2011.
The BLS indicates that the average annual salary for these scientists was $37,800 a year in West Virginia in 2012. Those in the 90th percentile of their wage bracket made an average of $50,100 that year.
Forensic analysts working for the state of West Virginia make a range of salaries depending on their level of experience and job responsibilities. There are five categories of this job type with level I being the starting position and level V employees being head of a section. Their salary ranges for 2013 are listed below:
- Forensic analyst I: $29,400 – $54,396
- Forensic analyst V: $39,372 – $72,840
The state’s two forensic labs are major providers of forensic scientist positions in the state. The West Virginia State Police have a forensics lab in Charleston that provides services to law enforcement agencies throughout the state and handles about 3500 cases a year. In addition, the forensic science center at Marshall University in Huntington works with the state police to analyze DNA profiles through the CODIS (combined DNA index system) database.
One category of forensics is handling evidence at the scene of the crime. Such work is done by crime scene investigators (CSIs) who can be either civilian employees or sworn officers. West Virginia provides both types of crime scene investigator positions.
CSI services are provided by the scientists of the forensic lab in Huntington. In other cases, detectives with forensic training process evidence at crime scenes. The average CSI position in West Virginia paid $55,000 in the year leading up to October 2013 according to Indeed.com.