Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in Arizona

Crime scene investigators preserve the evidence from crime scenes, enabling it to be analyzed further in a laboratory.  This can be a grueling job with long hours potentially involving work on violent crime scenes.

Crime scene investigators are a vital component of law enforcement in Arizona, a state that had 345 murders and over 1,500 cases of rape reported in 2012.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona had the second highest concentration of forensic science jobs in the country in 2012, including crime scene investigators.  In fact, the Phoenix/Mesa/Glendale metropolitan area had the highest level of employment for CSI professionals in the country.  In 2012, 71% of the crime scene investigation jobs in Arizona were in the Phoenix/Mesa/Glendale area.

The average salary in this field for 2012 is listed for the following cities:

  • Flagstaff:  $62,640
  • Phoenix/Mesa/Glendale:  $56,380
  • Tucson:  $51,500

Education and Training to Become a CSI in Arizona

The larger police departments in Arizona hire civilians as crime scene investigators.  Frequently, they are referred to as crime scene specialists or criminalists.  While applicants for these positions do not have to attend and pass a law enforcement academy, a substantial amount of training is required for these jobs.

Typically, CSI jobs in Arizona require a bachelor’s degree, either in criminal justice or in chemistry.  This type of position requires a high level of problem solving and analytical skills, in addition to the technical knowledge to preserve and analyze crime scenes.  Communication skills are also important, since CSIs have to prepare technical reports and may have to testify in court.

Such training can be obtained from a number of schools within Arizona or from online schools that offer criminal justice degrees.  In some cases, an extensive background in photography will qualify applicants for entry-level crime scene specialist positions.

Typically, background checks and polygraph examinations are required to be hired as CSIs in Arizona.  A driver’s license is usually required, since these professionals will frequently be driving to crime scenes.  In some cases, applicants will have to pass a medical test to ensure that they can be certified to wear a tight-fitting respirator.

In other law enforcement agencies, CSIs are sworn officers who have a shown a great deal of skill in investigating crimes and have obtained advanced training in forensics.  Applicants for such positions have to pass a rigorous screening and background check.  Formal education in criminal justice can also be a help to applicants for such positions.

Both civilian and law enforcement officers who are CSIs must continually update their education to keep abreast of the rapidly changing fields in forensic science.  One way in which to do this is to take additional college courses.

CSI Certification in Arizona

Professional CSIs in Arizona may want to join the Arizona Identification Council and obtain certification for their forensic discipline(s).  This is the Arizona Division of the International Association for Identification, a worldwide group of forensic specialists.

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Recent courses in Arizona have included:

  • Advanced digital photography
  • Bloodstain patterns
  • Fingerprint ACE-V training

Arizona Crime Scene Investigation Units

In the U.S., 90% of CSIs work for state and local governments, typically for law enforcement agencies.  The following law enforcement organizations in Arizona have crime scene investigation units:

  • Arizona Department of Public Safety
  • Tucson Police Department
  • Chandler Police Department
  • Phoenix Police Department
  • Mesa Police Department

In some cases, they are referred to as Crime Scene Response Units.

Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Arizona

Arizona is a good state for employment in the forensic sciences.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gave a high ranking to the state in two forensic science employment categories for 2012:

  1. It had the fourth highest level of employment of any state in the country.
  2. It was the state with the second highest concentration of jobs.
  3. In particular, the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area had the greatest employment level of any metropolitan area in the country.  Five hundred and ninety of the 830 forensic scientists employed in Arizona in 2012 were located there.

These cities had the following ranking according to concentration of jobs:

  • Flagstaff:  Second highest
  • Tucson:  Fourth highest
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale:  Eight highest

The average forensic science technician salary in Arizona was $54,930 in 2012.  Experienced professionals earned an average of $86,150 that year.  Information on the salary levels in selected cities for 2012 is listed below:

Arizona City
Average Annual Salary

Forensic jobs continue to be available in Arizona, but they are generally due to the replacement of people leaving the workforce rather than to the creation of new jobs.  Workforce Arizona has projected the growth in forensic science technicians to be as follows for 2012 through 2014:

Arizona City
% Growth

A subgroup of forensic science is crime scene investigations.  These professionals specialize in collecting forensic evidence at crime scenes.  A number of different types of positions fall under this classification.  A crime scene investigator can be a detective that has specialized in forensics or a civilian such as a crime scene specialist.

The salaries of CSIs vary widely depending on the person’s background and the type of job.  Examples in recent years have included the following salaries for crime scene specialists in 2013:

  • Mesa:  $38,459 to $51,771
  • Phoenix:  $35,547 to $51,605

The BLS has a provided a detailed breakdown of 2012 salary information for several cities in Arizona.  This is delineated in the table below:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Flagstaff AZ
Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale AZ
Tucson AZ

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Mesa, Arizona

The Mesa Police Department Forensic Services Section includes both the crime scene unit and the forensic science laboratory.

Crime scene investigators, called crime scene specialists, are responsible for:

  • Photographing the crime scene
  • Recovering/processing latent prints, taking inked prints
  • Collecting and preserving physical evidence
  • Casting tire prints
  • Developing composites
  • Testifying in courts of law

All crime scene specialists receive extensive training at the Mesa Police Department Crime Scene Academy and are called upon to work nights, weekends and holidays.

Requirements for CSI or Forensic Lab Technician Jobs in Mesa

Jobs with the Mesa Police Department Forensic Science Section are classified as either “technical” or “forensic science” positions.In general, forensic positions require a college degree while technical jobs do not. Technical and forensic jobs both require:

  • Valid Arizona driver’s license
  • Background investigation
  • Polygraph and substance abuse tests

Other requirements for specific technical jobs are as follows:

  • Crime Scene Specialist – Complete 64 college credit hours in forensic science, photography or a natural science OR two years crime scene experience.
  • Senior Crime Scene Specialist – All of the above plus certification as a CSI from the International Association for Identification. Must also be qualified to wear a tight-fitting respirator and pass medical and psychological exams.
  • Fingerprint Examiner – High school diploma or its equivalent and one year fingerprint experience.
  • Photographic Technician – College-level courses in photography and digital imaging techniques plus working knowledge of computers and two years experience in a photography lab.

Annual salary for entry-level technical jobs is $38,459 – $51,771.

Other requirements for specific forensic jobs are as follows:

  • Forensic Scientist I – Bachelor of Scientist degree in chemistry or another natural science (biochemistry, genetics or molecular biology preferred for DNA unit). Salary $44,532 to $66,081. Forensic Scientist II and III require more experience and graduate level studies. Salaries range from $56,825 to $92,976.
  • Firearms Examiner – Bachelor of Science in chemistry, biochemistry or a related field. Some experience in a forensic crime lab desirable. Salary $49,088 to $66,081. Forensic Examiner II requires additional years experience and membership in the Association of Firearms and Toolmark Examiners. Salary $56,824 to $76,502.
  • Latent Print Examiner I – Bachelor of Science degree plus one year experience in an accredited forensic lab. Salary $44,532 to $59,945. Latent Print Examiner II also requires certification by the International Assoc. of Crime Lab Directors. Salary $54,121 to $72,862.

A list of open technical and forensic positions is available at the City of Mesa.

There are at least four community colleges offering associate’s degrees in criminal justice or a related field. A four-year university offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the natural sciences is within five miles of Mesa.

Mesa Police Department Forensic Science Laboratory

The Mesa Police Department is justifiably proud of its nationally accredited crime lab which received an “Excellence in Forensic Science” award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2011. The lab employs over 70 people who process more than 35,000 requests a year. Their state-of-the-arts DNA equipment allowed them to recently reopen and solve a 33-year-old cold case. The Mesa lab began providing service to the police in Gilbert, AZ in 2012. The lab’s specialized units are:

  • Biology. Identifies/analyzes biological substances. Develops DNA profiles and compares them with those in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
  • Controlled Substances. Examines evidence for the presence of narcotics/other controlled substances. Trains police officers who do preliminary drug testing.
  • Evidence Processing. Processes and analyzes all physical evidence from crime scenes not covered by other units.
  • Fingerprint Identification. Processes fingerprints through the Arizona Automated Fingerprint Identification System database, compares ink prints and maintains fingerprint records.
  • Firearms. Examines firearms and Toolmark evidence to link with a crime or suspect. Tests firearms, determines distances, restores obliterated serial numbers, reconstructs shooting incidents and runs comparisons with the National Integrated Ballistics Network.
  • Latent Print. Performs scientific examinations like friction ridge analysis on latent prints and compares with finger and palm print databases.
  • Photo Lab. Produces digital, color and black and white prints, processes film and digital photos and manages photo files.
  • Quality Assurance. Verifies compliance with policies/procedures, validates new technical processes, investigates technical difficulties, maintains inventory and performs safety inspections.
  • Toxicology. Performs blood alcohol analyses, screens urine for drugs and oversees breath-alcohol testing.

Forensic scientist from all units are called upon to give expert witness testimony.

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix Police Department has more than 3,000 officers and 1,000 support personnel, making it one of the nation’s largest police departments. The Phoenix PD offers a “CSI Experience” program, which offers an inside look to curious members of the public. The program involves education on the Phoenix crime scene response unit and forensics crime lab, and also includes facility tours.

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The crime scene response team provides technical support to police detectives by photographing crime scenes and collecting, analyzing, preserving and presenting all manner of physical evidence from homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, traffic accidents, etc. Crime scene investigators (CSIs) work in the field at crime scenes and autopsies as well as in laboratories. Phoenix CSI jobs are classified as Crime Scene Specialists I, II and III, Shift Supervisors and Crime Scene Supervisors.

Crime Scene Specialist I: $35,547-$51,605; Level II: $38,771-$56,909; Level III: $42,682-$62,712; Shift Supervisor: $54,392-$81,245; Crime Scene Supervisor: $66,518-$99,195.

Forensic Scientist I: $42,682-$62,712; Level II: $46,758-$69,950; Level III: $54,392-$81,245; Level IV: $66,518-$99,195; Supervisor: $69,950-$104,416.

Requirements for Forensics and CSI Professionals in Phoenix

Phoenix has ample educational opportunities. There are at least five two-year colleges that offer certificates and/or associate’s degrees in criminal justice or a related field. Phoenix also has one or more four-year colleges/universities that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic science, chemistry or other natural sciences. Phoenix residents can also take advantage of numerous, accredited four-year schools offering online degrees.

CSI – All crime scene specialists need knowledge of evidence collecting/preserving, crime scene photography, rules of evidence and computer usage. Other requirements include:

  • Able to communicate orally and in writing in English
  • Willing to work nights, weekends and holidays and in all kinds of weather
  • Able to travel over rocky, uneven surfaces and lift objects over 50 pounds
  • Able to work in aircraft or on elevated platforms, ladders or roofs
  • Able to work in spite of decomposing bodies, strong odors, insects, hostility and/or emotionally charged situations involving child or animal victims
  • Possession of a valid driver’s license and clean driving record
  • Pass a polygraph test and background investigation

Forensic Lab Technician – Experience and educational requirements: Level I: one year education or experience in crime scene processing. Level II: one year CSI experience; associate’s degree in criminal justice or forensic science. Level III: Three years experience, including two years as crime scene specialist II and an associate’s degree or better. Supervisory positions require four or five years experience and a bachelor’s degree.

  • Knowledge of forensic science principles/procedures
  • Knowledge of laws of evidence and criminal procedure
  •  Awareness of chemical and lab safety
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English
  • Able to instruct others
  • Eyesight capable of seeing a full range of the color spectrum
  • Physically able to remain sitting or standing for extended periods
  • Able to measure distances accurately
  • Basic computer proficiency
  •  Bachelor’s degree or better in chemistry or a natural science
  • Valid driver’s license/clean driving record
  • Successfully pass a polygraph and background investigation

Forensic scientist II, III and IV each require two years experience at the preceding level.

All open positions, detailed job descriptions and online application forms are available on the Coty of Phoenix employment website.

Phoenix Police Department Forensics Crime Laboratory

A new $34.6 million, 104,000-square foot, state-of-the-arts forensics crime laboratory opened in Phoenix in 2007. A staff of 140 to 150 sworn and civilian professionals works around the clock in specialized labs for processing different kinds of evidence such as controlled substances, forensic biology, latent prints or questioned documents. The nationally accredited facility includes the latest equipment for DNA analysis, a firearms testing range, a vehicle inspection lab and chemical and evidence storage rooms.

Forensic Scientist Job Description and Functions in Phoenix

Forensic scientist I is an entry-level position that includes a 24-month, structured training program consisting of classroom instruction, required reading, research and presentation and mock trial participation. Closely supervised job functions include:

  • Physical and chemical analyzes of crime scene evidence
  • Quality control testing
  • Preparation of findings for court testimony

Forensic scientist II, III and IV have successfully completed the training and work on cases with higher levels of complexity.

Crime Scene Specialists Job Description/Functions

Crime Scene Specialist I is an entry-level position that requires participation in an on-the-job training program. Job functions focus on less complex cases and include:

  • Examining crime scene evidence including bodies, blood patterns, bullet holes, fingerprints, shoe/tire prints, tool marks, etc.
  • Processing evidence using special powders, chemical solutions or forensic light sources
  • Attending autopsies to photograph injuries and take fingerprints
  • Documenting and bar-coding evidence
  • Writing detailed reports
  • Testifying as an expert witness in court

The functions of crime scene specialists II and III are basically the same but they have successfully completed the training program and work on more complex cases.

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Tucson, Arizona

Tucson has a higher crime rate than the rest of Arizona, but the Tucson Police Department is dedicated to preventing crime and protecting life and property.

The Tucson Police Department crime scene investigation team is at the site whenever a serious crime occurs in the city. The team is responsible for photographically documenting the crime scene and collecting such evidence as DNA, fingerprints, bullet casings, bodily fluids, hair, fabric, tire marks, etc. The evidence is processed and turned over to the forensic crime lab for analysis.

At the present time the Tucson Police Department is actively recruiting crime scene investigators (CSIs). Due to retirements and promotions, the crime scene investigation team currently has only 11 members, a number they would like to see doubled.

Requirements for Criminal Investigation Jobs in Tucson

CSI Professionals – The requirements for the job of crime scene investigator in Tucson are:

  • At least 18 years of age
  • Photography experience
  • Submit to a background investigation and drug screening
  • Successfully pass written exam and oral interview

The pay is $17.00 to $29.00 an hour depending on experience. Apply through the City of Tucson’s online employment system.

There are at least four two-year community colleges in Tucson which offer associate’s degrees in criminal justice as well as three four-year institutions that offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in chemistry or other natural sciences.

Forensic Lab Professionals – There are currently 160 forensic scientists working in the Tucson Metropolitan Area. In addition to the police department crime lab, forensic scientists are employed by educational institutions as well as private research and analytical laboratories. All forensic scientist jobs require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in chemistry or another science.

Qualifications for employment with the Tucson Police Department Crime Lab vary depending upon the unit to be worked in. However, a Bachelor of Science degree is a minimal requirement. For further information contact Crime Lab Supervisor Susan Shankles. Visit the City of Tucson employment website for a list of open job opportunities at the Tucson crime lab and online application forms.

The average annual salary for forensic scientists in Tucson is $51,140 which is slightly less than the national average.

Tucson Police Department Forensic Crime Laboratory

Founded in 1960, the Tucson crime lab is the oldest crime lab in Arizona and one of the first in the nation to become accredited by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors Lab Accreditation Bureau. The staff of 31 consists of a crime lab supervisor, one quality assurance manager, four lab coordinators, 20 criminalists (another name for forensic scientist), three digital media analysts and one administrative professional. The lab’s seven operational units are as follows:

  • Forensic Biology- Handles such DNA sources as blood, semen, saliva, hair, fingernails and skin cells found on clothing, bed linens, drink containers, cigarette butts, etc.  Comparisons are made using the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. The unit’s seven forensic scientists include a coordinator, one DNA technical leader and five criminalists.
  • Firearms Identification/Toolmark Comparison- The unit’s two criminalists attempt to link spent cartridge cases and bullets to a particular firearm and/or suspect. They also determine muzzle-to-target distances, identify toolmarks and use national databases to compare firearms used in various crimes.
  • Latent Prints- Identifies latent finger, palm and foot prints and compares them with those on state and national latent print databases. The unit’s six forensic scientists are often called upon to testify in court.
  • Chemical Analysis- Analyzes powders, tablets, capsules and unknown substances suspected of containing drugs or narcotics and testifies about the results in court. The unit employs three criminalists and one coordinator.
  • Toxicology- Three criminalists and one coordinator focus on analyzing blood samples for the presence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • Arson and Explosives- The unit’s one specialist examines fire debris and explosive residues for the presence of ignitable liquids or evidence of chemicals responsible for a fire or explosion. Provides expert testimony in courts of law.
  • Forensic Electronic Media Unit- Specializes in computer, mobile device and audio/video forensics. The unit’s three members are the lab’s only forensic scientists that regularly respond to crime scenes to collect and preserve digital evidence for subsequent analysis.

Each unit has its own training program for new hires. The training period varies from one to three years depending upon the unit. The Tucson crime lab does not offer student internships.

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