Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Career Education in New Mexico

There were 11,817 violent crimes reported in New Mexico in 2011, and crime scene investigators helped to solve many of these cases.  Eighty such scientists were employed in New Mexico in 2012 with an average salary of $51,450.  The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions has estimated that their ranks will increase by 20% by 2021.

A number of these forensic scientists are specialists in analyzing crime scenes and collecting physical evidence for further analysis.  Such crime scene investigators (CSIs) are brought onto the scene as soon as police have secured it.  Crime scene investigators perform the following activities:

  • Documenting the crime scene
    • Sketching
    • Photography
    • Videography
  • Collecting physical evidence
    • Blood patterns
    • Shoe and tire impressions
    • Bodily fluids that might contain DNA
    • Weapon fragments
    • Documenting their findings in writing
    • Testifying in court

New Mexico Crime Scene Investigation Units

Nationally 90% of CSIs work for state and local governments.  In New Mexico, some of the agencies that employ crime scene investigators include:

  • Albuquerque Police Department
  • Farmington Police Department Crime Lab
  • New Mexico State Police
    • Crime Scene Unit

The New Mexico State Police have six specialized crime scene units in Santa Fe, Roswell, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces among other places.  These units process about 250 crime scenes a year.

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Types of CSI Jobs Found in New Mexico

Some departments employed civilians as specialized crime scene technicians or field evidence technicians, while others train sworn officers in CSI techniques.

Civilian CSIs. 
The depiction of CSIs in the popular media has created a groundswell of interest in such careers, making the field competitive to get into.  To become a civilian CSI in New Mexico, at least an associate’s degree in criminal justice or a related field is generally required.  Most CSIs have at least a bachelor’s degree with some having graduate degrees.  Many criminal justice programs offer a specialty in CSI.

Prospective students can obtain degrees in criminal justice from schools located in New Mexico or from online schools that offer such degrees.  Students should also take as many hard science classes as they can to prepare themselves to do forensic work.

Some departments have special investigators who are sworn officers carrying out their CSI work.  Generally the base educational requirement to become a law enforcement official in New Mexico is a high school diploma or GED.  Applicants can enhance their chances of being accepted by obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.  Generally officers who are chosen to perform forensic work have several years of experience and have distinguished themselves in the field.

Both types of CSIs continue their education throughout their employment.  Forensic technology evolves rapidly and continuing course work can help to keep up with the changes.

CSI Certification in New Mexico

Once individuals have become established as CSIs in New Mexico’s various law enforcement organizations, many choose to join the International Association of Identification.  This group of forensic scientists provides training and certification to those who are highly skilled in their field.  This recognition can prove invaluable when CSIs are called to testify in court as this professional acknowledgement adds credibility.

Forensic Scientist Salary in New Mexico

The number of forensic jobs is growing nationally and in New Mexico.  The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions estimates that the number of jobs in New Mexico will grow by 1.88% each year in the period from 2011 to 2021.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that eighty forensic science technicians were employed in New Mexico in 2012.

According to the BLS, the annual median salary for forensic science technicians in New Mexico was $53,570 in 2012.  Those in the top tenth percent of their wage bracket made $69,260 that year.

2013 salaries are available for some supervisory forensic science lab positions in Santa Fe.  Both of the following positions paid from $49,442 to $88,733 a year:

  • Quality manager-forensic science
  • Supervising forensic scientist (chemistry section)

In addition to working as lab technicians, a number of forensic scientists also work in the field processing crime scene evidence and documenting the site.  Such crime scene investigator (CSI) positions can be filled by civilians or by sworn officers, depending on the department. The amount of experience that a forensic scientist has when starting a CSI position can dramatically affect the level of his or her salary.

Some CSIs specialize in particular types of crime scene evidence, while others are trained to collect all of the evidence at a crime scene and preserve it for further analysis. One such crime scene investigator position as a field evidence technician in Albuquerque paid from $32,573 to $52,125 a year in 2013.

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Albuquerque, New Mexico

With four main law enforcement agencies operating in the area, those thinking about committing crimes in Albuquerque should think again. Last year crime scene investigators and forensic lab scientists were able to secure enough evidence for convictions in most of the 4,151 violent crimes committed in the city, including 41 murder/manslaughter cases and 1,092 robberies. Specially trained CSI jobs in Albuquerque can be found with:

  • New Mexico State Police’s Crime Scene Team
  • Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department
  • Albuquerque Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Bureau
  • Rio Rancho Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit

Candidates looking into what it takes to become a crime scene investigator or forensic laboratory scientist in Albuquerque will also be interested to know that in addition to online schools offering certification and degree programs in the forensic science field, there are at least seven colleges within the city limits offering relevant forensic science degree programs.

CSI and Forensic Laboratory Requirements in Albuquerque

Forensic science jobs for professionals working in a laboratory environment in Albuquerque are focused mainly on the city’s Metropolitan Forensic Science Center, known familiarly as the Crime Lab. A short 60 miles away, forensic lab scientists also work with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s Headquarters Forensic Laboratory in Santa Fe.

Requirements for these positions vary depending on the particular field of specialization, such as:

  • Forensic Lab Technician: Requires an associate degree in either of the following plus four years of experience working in a lab environment:
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
  • Forensic Lab Scientist: Requires a bachelor degree in any of the following fields, plus at least five years of scientific lab experience:
    • Forensic Science
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Any other closely related field
  • Forensic Biology Scientist: Requires a bachelor degree in any of the following fields, plus five years of experience in a forensic laboratory working with biology or DNA, which can be exchanged with additional years of education on a year-to-year ratio:
    • Forensic Science
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Any other closely related field
    • Majors in any of the above fields must contain at least nine credit hours in:
      • Biochemistry
      • Genetics
      • Molecular Biology
      • Recombinant DNA
      • Molecular Genetics

In addition to a high school education, CSI field agents must meet the requirements set forth in their fields of expertise. For example, a forensic photographer should have at least five years of experience in photography or evidence processing.

Unique CSI Crime Lab Experience in Albuquerque

Albuquerque is one of the few cities that has responded to the popularization of CSI laboratories in recent television shows by introducing a citizen’s academy for those interested in pursuing a career in the field. Introduction to Albuquerque Police Crime Scene Investigation is a ten-week, 30-hour course taught at the Crime Lab by volunteer forensic scientists and sworn officers. The class caters to interested citizens and prospective CSI and forensic science career candidates, covering topics that include:

  • DNA and Blood Splatter
  • Firearms
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Chemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Computer Forensics
  • Crime Scene Processing
  • Fingerprinting
  • Photography

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Besides assisting in the investigation of the city’s five murder/homicides, 70 robberies, and 56 forcible rapes in the most recent statistical year, forensic science professionals working in Las Cruces also continue to try and solve cold cases. This includes the unsolved tragic crime that occurred in February of 1990 when two gunmen stormed into a bowling alley, corralled seven people into an office and then proceeded to shoot them all. Crime scene investigators who worked on the case still have vivid memories from that day, and forensic laboratory technicians are keeping track of the latest advances in technology to ensure the case is eventually solved using evidence that is still kept under lock and key.

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Forensic science jobs in Las Cruces can be found with the following agencies:

  • New Mexico Department of Public Safety Forensic Laboratory
  • New Mexico State Police’s Crime Scene Team
  • Doña Ana Sheriff Department’s Criminal Investigations Division
  • Las Cruces Police Department

Becoming a Forensic Science Professional in Las Cruces

During the process of researching how to become a crime scene investigator and forensic scientist in Las Cruces, candidates will be interested in the education requirements for forensic science CSI jobs in and around the city.

Forensic laboratory scientists are concentrated in the New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s Forensic Laboratory located in Las Cruces. To be eligible for Forensic Science Technician positions, candidates must meet the minimum degree requirement, which varies slightly as follows depending on the technician’s area of focus:

  • DNA and Chemistry focus- bachelor degree in:
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Genetics
    • Biochemistry
    • Molecular Biology
    • Forensic Science
  • Latent Print and Firearm focus- there are three different ways to qualify for these positions:
    • Bachelor degree in any subject
    • Associate degree and two years of laboratory experience
    • Four years of laboratory experience

When it comes to field crime scene investigation jobs in Las Cruces, in addition to specially trained CSI local law enforcement officials, evidence technicians will also be called to assist in the collection and documentation of evidence, often through forensic photography and video recording. Both the Doña Ana Sheriff Department and the Las Cruces Police Department require their evidence technicians to have a high school diploma or GED plus years of related experience. The Las Cruces Police Department additionally requires two years of experience with photography and digital video recording plus a Crime Scene Photography Certification within the first year of hire.

Studying and Working in Las Cruces

When deciding on an institution for higher education, Las Cruces residents have the choice of attending one of the state’s largest colleges in their own local community or a variety of other schools in the nearby vicinity and online, offering both degree and certification programs.

Lab technicians working at the Las Cruces Forensic Laboratory can work among several methods of analysis in which the lab specializes:

  • Trace analysis and fire debris
  • Controlled substance chemical analysis
  • Latent prints
  • Methamphetamine purity analysis

CSI and Forensic Scientist in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Forensic science professionals in Santa Fe were recently able to bring justice and closure to a case concerning a 61-year-old woman who had been attacked and assaulted by a previously unknown man in 1991. Using newly available technologies, Santa Fe Police Department forensic detectives were able to link DNA obtained from that crime to a man living in a different state. This was thanks to a re-examination of the evidence by forensic laboratory technicians. Once a positive hit was registered, authorities were able to place the man under arrest. The perpetrator’s extradition back to New Mexico is currently under way.

In addition to cold cases, the following agencies also participate in solving current crimes committed in and around Santa Fe using CSI professionals and the most qualified forensic lab technicians:

  • Santa Fe Police Department
  • Santa Fe County Sheriff Office’s Forensic Computer Laboratory
  • New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s Santa Fe Forensic Laboratory
  • New Mexico State Police’s Crime Scene Team

Preparing for a CSI Forensic Science Jobs in Santa Fe

While candidates research how to become a crime scene investigator and forensic scientist in Santa Fe, they will find that obtaining the right education credentials is essential. Fortunately this is not difficult because in the city there are at least five schools offering degree programs which are related to the forensic science field. There are also additional schools both online and located regionally offering relevant degree and certification programs for prospective forensic science professionals.

CSI Field Agents – Working as a CSI investigator with local law enforcement require candidates to pursue a degree plus specialized certification in any of the following areas:

  • Crime Scene Photography and Video Recording
  • Forensic Art
  • Latent Print
  • Footwear
  • Crime Scene Analyst

Laboratory Forensics – Forensic laboratory scientists working at the Santa Fe Forensic Laboratory will have the option of working in several fields:

  • DNA and Serology
  • Latent Prints plus Footwear and Tire Impressions
  • Firearms including serial number reconstruction and Toolmarks
  • Controlled Substance Analysis

To be qualified for these positions requires an appropriate education. A bachelor degree in the following will qualify candidates to work in the DNA and chemistry fields:

  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Forensic Science
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry

Latent print and firearm specialists need to have a bachelor degree in any subject, or qualify through either of the following routes:

  • Associate degree in any field and two years of laboratory experience
  • Four years of working experience in a forensics laboratory

Baffling Cold Case for Forensic Experts

Until recently, the 1981 disappearance of a New Mexico man had been a mystery, that is until a group of hikers discovered what they thought were human bones on a trail near the Santa Fe Ski Basen. State police and the FBI were dispatched to the area to see if they could turn up anything unusual, but so far the cause of death remains a mystery.

Despite the many advances in technology, forensic science professionals still face some limitations when it comes to extremely decomposed evidence and old cases where potential leads may have dried up. However this doesn’t stop evidence technicians and CSI experts from collecting materials that may reveal some clues with future technological advancements.

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