As the last frontier, Alaska offers challenges to law enforcement officials who seek to solve crimes in the state. In 2010, there were 31 murders and 533 rapes reported in Alaska. The rate of rape is particularly high in the state. It is over 2.7 times that for the U.S. as a whole.
One of the first steps in solving such crimes is to secure the crime scene. Crime scene investigators are then brought onto the site. They are specialized in applying forensic science techniques in the field to examine the evidence and preserve it for further analysis back in the lab. In contrast to what is frequently described in the popular media, it can take up to a week to analyze the scene of a crime.
Crime scene investigators perform the following tasks:
- Photograph and sketch the crime scene and evidence
- Make notes in writing
- Collect physical evidence such as:
- Bodily fluids
- Tracks of shoes or tires
Properly cataloging this evidence is vital to the integrity of investigations.
Alaska Crime Scene Investigation Units
The field of crime scene investigation is projected to grow 18.5% from 2010 to 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of the jobs available in the field are with law enforcement organizations. Frequently, Alaskan crime scene investigators have formal law enforcement training and have augmented their skills by taking courses in crime scene analysis.
Agencies that employ crime scene investigators in Alaska include:
- The Anchorage Police Department
- The Alaska Bureau of Investigation
In Anchorage, the Police Department has a $410,000 38 foot long vehicle that is dedicated to crime scene investigations. The vehicle has its own server to be able to stay connected to headquarters even in remote locations. Storage is given a high priority, since investigators can collect up to 200 pieces of evidence at a crime scene.
Forensic Quality Services, Inc (FQS) recently accorded accreditation to the Anchorage Police Department, formally recognizing the skill of its crime scene investigators.
The Alaska Bureau of Investigation (ABI) provides crime scene instructors to teach these techniques to law enforcement officials throughout the state.
Education and Training to Become a CSI in Alaska
To become a CSI in Alaska typically requires certification as a law enforcement official. This entails formal academy training. Officers who are skilled investigators can get additional training in forensics and specialize in crime scene analysis.
Given the interest in becoming a CSI, there is a lot of competition to join the ranks of these forensic specialists. Candidates can distinguish themselves by having obtained formal training in the techniques of crime scene analysis.
One way to do this is to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Such programs frequently offer a specialty in crime scene investigation. Getting a strong grounding in science can also help prepare aspiring candidates to join the ranks of crime scene investigators.
Residents of Alaska can obtain an education in criminal justice at schools in Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Wasilla. An option to commuting to classes is to take part in the online criminal justice schools that are offered by a number of accredited institutions.
Once individuals have become crime scene investigators, they will need to continually update their skills. This can be done by taking additional college classes or by training from the ABI.
CSI Certification in Alaska
Forensic specialists such as CSIs may want to join the Pacific Northwest Division of the International Association for Identification. This Division of the IAI offers conferences on the techniques of crime scene analysis and certification for various forensic specialties, such as:
- Fingerprint analysis (latent and tenprint)
- Bloodstain pattern analysis
- Forensic photography, art, and video
- Footwear analysis
Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Alaska
According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 112 forensic science technicians were employed in the state in 2010. They project that the number of jobs in this field will grow 3.6% from 2010 to 2020.
In 2011, 41.5% of the forensic science technicians in the state were at least 45 years old. Eighty-nine percent of the new jobs that are projected to become available will be due to replacing people who will leave the workforce.
The major employer of forensic scientists in the state is the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage. This lab has a number of sections that specialize in particular areas of forensic science. These specialties include analysis of the following types of evidence:
- Latent fingerprints
- Blood alcohol levels
The state of Alaska provides the salaries of forensic scientists who worked for the Department of Public Safety in 2010. They are listed below:
- Forensic technician I: $27,838 – $43,792
- Forensic scientist III
- DNA: $63,192 – $74,026
- Physical evidence: $61,813 – $79,672
- Chemistry: $55,203 – $74,026
In addition to their technical expertise in the lab, many forensic scientists are crime scene investigators. They preserve physical evidence in the field for future analysis. CSI positions in Alaska are available to either civilians or sworn officers.
In Juneau, crime scene investigation is performed by police officers who have been specially trained in crime scene processing. The salary for a police officer in Juneau ranged from $58,510 to $62,691 in 2013 (based on a forty hour workweek).
CSI and Forensic Scientist in Anchorage, Alaska
In spite of Alaska’s lack of population density, the crime rate is higher than the national average, keeping the criminal justice system busy. The crime scene investigators (CSIs) who document, collect and preserve evidence where crimes occur, and the forensic scientists who process and analyze the evidence in crime laboratories, are critically important members of the justice system. Evidence is almost always the determining factor between guilt and innocence.
The average annual salary for CSIs in Anchorage, AL is $36,000
The average annual salary for forensic scientists in Anchorage, AL is $45,000
The listed salary for Automated Fingerprint Identification System Operator at the SCDL in Anchorage is $3,764/month.
Requirements for Becoming a Forensic Science or CSI Professional in Anchorage
Almost all forensic scientist jobs require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a natural science like chemistry while an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is a good choice for a job as crime scene investigator.
Anchorage is home to at least two colleges/universities that offer an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice as well as a bachelor of science with a major in chemistry or another science.
A list of job opportunities with the SCDL is available on the “Workplace Alaska” website. A job description and application instructions are included for each open position. Call the lab at 907-269-5740 for additional career information.
“Automated Fingerprint Identification System Operator” is one job at SCDL that does not require a bachelor’s degree. The job is described as follows:
- Make fingerprint identifications of suspects
- Operate the Alaska automated fingerprint identification system
- Comply with the Western Identification Network and FBI specifications
- Prepare written reports and court testimonies
- Maintain an electronic and a card file fingerprint repository
- Be responsible for a fingerprint record archives
Qualifications for the job of Automated Fingerprint Identification System Operator are:
- Knowledge of fingerprint pattern recognition and classification
- Familiarity with the Automated Fingerprint Identification System
- Able to compare inked to inked prints
- Able to take fingerprints by ink or live scan machine
- Willing to travel throughout the state
- One year full-time training in automated fingerprint identification OR
- Current fingerprint certification from the National Association for Identification
Anchorage Police Department Crime Scene Unit
The Anchorage Police Department has a six-person crime scene unit that is responsible for collecting evidence at the scenes of all major crimes. They were very glad when the 18-year-old van they were using was replaced in October of 2012 with a new, 35-foot, 26,000-pound van for processing crime scenes. The van is fitted with state-of-the-art equipment as well as exterior lighting that Lead Detective Harry Struble described as strong enough “to light Mulcahy Stadium.”
Scientific Crime Detection Lab in Anchorage, AK
The Scientific Crime Detection Lab (SCDL) was built in 1986 as a sub-section of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. The original lab was replaced in June of 2012 with a new, $87 million facility with state-of-the-arts equipment and four times as much space. The SCDL serves law enforcement agencies from all over the state of Alaska. According to the forensic scientists who work there, the new laboratory will finally allow them to catch up with the backlog of DNA cases waiting to be processed.
Services provided by the Anchorage Scientific Crime Detection Lab include:
- Biological Screening
- Latent Fingerprint Analysis
- DNA Testing/Analysis
- Statewide Blood Alcohol Testing Program
- Drug Identification
- Firearm/Toolmark Examination
The forensic scientists at the SCDL are often called upon to testify as expert witnesses in courts of law. In addition, they assist with crime scene investigations and train law enforcement officers from all over the state in proper evidence collection and preservation techniques.