There were over 5,000 instances of violent crime in Nebraska in 2010. Crime scene investigators (CSIs) have been key elements in solving many of these crimes. As soon as a crime scene has been secured, CSIs are brought onto the scene to document and preserve physical evidence for further analysis.
These forensic specialists perform the following acts at crime scenes and afterwards:
- Document the scene by photographing, sketching, and/or video
- Secure physical evidence for analysis, including:
- Bodily fluids
- Blood patterns
- Tire and shoe impressions
- Prepare written documents describing their findings
- Testify in court
Nebraska Crime Scene Investigation Units
In Nebraska, CSIs can be either civilian employees of law enforcement agencies with CSI training or sworn officers with years of investigative experience who have received high level training in forensics. The following agencies are among those in Nebraska that employ CSIs:
- South Sioux City: Criminal Investigation Section
- Omaha Police Department
- Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office: Criminal Investigations Division
- Douglas County Sheriff’s Office: Crime Scene Investigation Unit
- Contracts with over 40 law enforcement agencies in Nebraska and Iowa
CSI Education and Training in Nebraska
The education and training to become a CSI in Nebraska varies depending on whether the applicants will be applying for civilian jobs or positions as sworn officers. Civilian positions such as those in a crime lab or as evidence handling specialists typically require at least a certificate in CSI or forensics.
Given the high level of interest in becoming a CSI, applicants are advised to distinguish themselves from the competition by getting as much training as possible. Prospective students in this field can get a degree in criminal justice or forensics with a CSI option at schools in Nebraska. Selected students can get internships with the Omaha Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau or its Crime Lab. Another option is to get formal training in criminal justice from one of the online schools that offer such degrees.
Applicants for investigative positions as sworn officers will have to meet their department’s requirements and obtain academy training. While a high school diploma is the basic requirement in many instances, obtaining criminal justice degrees will help applicants to be more competitive when they apply.
Officers who are chosen to be investigators will frequently work a crime from the initial analysis of the crime scene through the investigation and into court. The Nebraska State Patrol’s Crime Lab provides training in evidence collection and preservation to law enforcement officers throughout the state.
All CSIs continue to update their education to keep abreast of new technology in forensic analysis, either by taking college courses or obtaining further training from crime labs in Nebraska.
CSI Certification in Nebraska
CSIs in Nebraska frequently join the state’s chapter of the International Association of Identification. This worldwide forensic organization offers certification to those who are highly skilled in areas of forensic analysis, including the following:
- Crime scene investigation
- Fingerprint analysis
- Blood pattern analysis
- Forensic art, video, and reconstruction
Forensics Salary for Lab Technicians and CSIs in Nebraska
Forensic scientists in Nebraska made an average of $61,000 in the year preceding October 2013 according to Indeed.com. Within Nebraska, several cities have crime labs that employ forensic scientists.
The Nebraska State Patrol’s Crime Laboratory is in Lincoln. Two crime labs are located in Omaha: that of the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Crime Lab. The latter crime lab handles cases from across the state and even from some other states.
Because of the large number of forensic science technicians working in Omaha, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides employment and salary information for forensic scientists in this area. Fifty such scientists were employed in the Omaha area in 2012. They made an average of $49,710 a year in 2012 with experienced professionals in the top 90th percentile making $65,020.
Forensic scientist positions can entail either analyzing evidence in a lab or processing crime scenes. The latter type of scientists are known as crime scene investigators (CSIs). They document the site and collect evidence that undergoes further analysis in a lab. The types of positions for CSIs vary greatly.
Sworn officer CSIs. Some law enforcement agencies in Nebraska have investigators that are sworn officer who specialize in the collection of forensic evidence and the processing of crime scenes. These professionals are paid according to the standard rates for law enforcement officers.
Civilian CSIs. In other cases, civilians perform the crime scene investigation work. One such position in Omaha in 2013 was for a CSI with three years of experience. It was a crime scene investigator III position that paid from $48,080 to $60,216 a year.
The BLS provides a detailed breakdown of the pay rate of forensic science technicians in the Omaha area. Both hourly and annual wage percentiles are available in the table below:
CSI and Forensic Scientist in Grand Island, Nebraska
Forensic science professionals in Grand Island are concentrated with the Hall County Sheriff’s Department and the Grand Island Police Department. Positions in this field range from CSI professionals such as evidence technicians who assist sworn law enforcement personnel in gathering material in the field, to forensic lab technicians who process evidence in the Nebraska State Patrol’s Crime Lab in Lincoln. These forensic science professionals have used their skills to hold the violent crime rate in the city at a relatively stable level even as the population continues to increase. Last year professionals in this field assisted in the investigation of 162 violent crimes.
Becoming informed on the process of how to become a crime scene investigator and forensic scientist in Grand Island will prepare candidates for a challenging and rewarding career.
Preparing for Forensic Science and CSI Jobs in Grand Island
Providing assistance to experienced police officers and sheriff’s investigators, forensic evidence technicians process crime scenes searching for any clues that can be turned into a lead or conviction. The Grand Island Police Department additionally prefers that candidates have experience handling property and evidence. Because this position is competitive, candidates may also consider obtaining relevant degrees in areas such as:
- Crime Scene Investigator
- Crime Scene Reconstructionist
- Forensic Art
- Forensic Photography
Forensic lab technicians have a variety of specializations, and at Grand Island’s local sheriff’s and police departments this includes toxicology and fingerprinting expertise. Additional forensic science jobs at the State Patrol’s Crime Lab in Lincoln involve a greater level of expertise and specialization. Forensic laboratory scientists need to have advanced training in their specific field, which can be accomplished through a forensic science degree or the study of a closely related subject such as:
- DNA and Genetics
In addition to the degree programs and certifications available to Grand Island residents through online schools, there are at least two colleges within a 100-mile radius of the city where prospective students can find the required education to begin a career in the Grand Island forensic science field.
A Boost in Funding for Forensic Science through Federal Grant
The cold case involving a Grand Island woman who was assaulted and stabbed to death in 1984 may be one step closer to being solved thanks to a $226,000 grant from the federal government that provides funding for CSI forensic science investigators involved with the case to conduct DNA tests using modern technology. At a price tag of $3,000 each, these tests are not cheap, especially with the current budget demands to fund more immediate issues that could prevent such crimes in the future.
Although in an ideal situation law enforcement would have the resources available to actively engage every case, this grant will allow the forensic science field in Grand Island and the rest of the state to expand and improve.
CSI and Forensic Scientist in Lincoln, Nebraska
In Lincoln, it takes a team effort to bring justice to the victims and perpetrators of crimes that require forensic investigations. Crime scene investigating officers play their part by meticulously gathering clues in the field and transporting these to the crime labs of several law enforcement agencies located in Lincoln, where the evidence is scrutinized in a controlled environment by forensic scientist laboratory technicians.
In the past year this has included evidence from the crimes the city experienced:
- 4 homicides
- 162 rapes and attempted rapes
- 240 vehicle thefts
- 353 forgery cases
- 1,059 residential burglaries
CSI officers work as part of the Lincoln Police Department and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, and these agencies also employ forensic lab techs to manage their limited-function crime labs. The State Patrol’s full service Crime Laboratory is also located in Lincoln and employs an additional 24 specialists.
Education for Careers in Forensic Laboratory Science and Crime Scene Investigations
There are two universities in Lincoln that offer two and four-year degrees in fields that are directly applicable to forensic science and CSI jobs in the area. There are also additional online schools and colleges offering relevant certification and degree programs with an open enrollment policy for Lincoln residents.
CSI Education – As prospective employees research how to become a forensic lab scientist or crime scene investigator in Lincoln the requirement for education will become apparent. In most cases, CSI jobs in Lincoln are available to experienced individuals who usually started out as police officers or sheriff deputies and have been promoted to CSI positions after years of demonstrating their talents. These officers often have associate’s or bachelor’s degrees from programs that include:
- Criminal Justice
- Law Enforcement
- Forensic Science
CSI specialists working with the Lincoln Police Department additionally have a history of coming from a variety of investigative backgrounds.
Forensic Scientist Education – Law enforcement agencies also have certain education standards for their forensic scientists. The State Patrol’s Crime Lab in Lincoln requires its identification technicians to have previous experience or education in fingerprinting and the operations of a criminal laboratory. This can be met with a certification course in:
- Forensic science
- NAFIS (Nebraska Automated Fingerprint Identification System)
- Forensic photography
- Fingerprint and latent print analysis
Working in Lincoln
Located just off Highway 2, the State Patrol’s Crime Laboratory boasts accreditation from the American Society of Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). Currently forensic scientists analyze 4,000 pieces of evidence each year, and specialize in areas such as:
- Latent fingerprints
- Drug chemistry
- Biology and DNA analysis
- Questioned documents
- Tool marks
- Trace chemistry
The Lincoln Police Department has a forensics unit dedicated to:
- Fingerprint examinations and the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System)
- Document examination
CSI and Forensic Scientist in Omaha, Nebraska
Law enforcement agencies in the Omaha metropolitan area strive to provide the communities they serve with the highest quality forensic work. The region’s crime scene investigators who discern and collect evidence from the field, forensic lab technicians who analyze this evidence in a controlled laboratory environment, and evidence technicians who ensure evidence is stored and handled properly so that its integrity is not questioned are responsible for this work.
These professionals work among the ranks of the metro region’s largest law enforcement agencies including:
- Omaha Police Department’s crime lab and CSI unit
- Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s Crime Scene Unit and forensic laboratory
- Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office
- Bellevue Police Department
- La Vista Police Department
- Papillion Police Department
- Nebraska State Patrol’s Crime Laboratory
Qualifying for Forensic Science and CSI Jobs in Omaha
Forensic Lab Technician – Forensic science tech jobs in Omaha are primarily located in crime labs operated by the Omaha Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, however forensic laboratory scientists also work in smaller law enforcement agencies performing less complex tasks such as analyzing fingerprints and compiling toxicology reports. Although each agency has its own hiring standards, these are mostly consistent and require some form of higher education.
For example, the entry level Crime Lab Trainee position with the Omaha Police Department requires either of the following:
- Two years of college education, such as an associate degree in any subject
- Two years of work experience in a field such as:
- Fingerprinting and classification systems
- Evidence preservation
- Toxicology analysis
Crime Scene Investigators – As with forensic laboratory scientists, it is a similar story for CSI jobs in the Omaha area- each law enforcement agency has its own hiring requirements, but these tend to be the same across the board. For instance, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office hired an applicant with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts who had recently earned professional certification in Forensic Investigation. CSI agents with the Omaha PD, also known as criminalists, are required to have four years of experience related to identification in the criminal investigations area, with at least one of these years being in a specialized field.
In addition to work experience, this requirement can be fulfilled with a bachelor degree in any of the following subjects:
- Forensic Science
- Biology with a specialization in Serology
- Law Enforcement
Learning Environment in Omaha
Before hire, candidates for these positions can choose among several schools offering relevant certifications and degree programs in the fields of forensics and investigations. There are at least two colleges in the Omaha-Lincoln area offering degrees in forensic science, with additional opportunities for these through online schools that also include certification programs.
After being hired, education will continue with on-the-job training as CSI agents learn about:
- Crime scene reconstruction
- Tire tread and footprint casting
- Evidence preservation and transportation
- Criminal psychology
- Crime scene photography
Forensic laboratory scientists will continue their training on-the-job in subjects such as:
- DNA extraction and analysis
- Latent print analysis
- Trace chemistry
- Questioned documents