Crime scene investigators combine science, technology, and expertise to collect and preserve crucial evidence from crime scenes. This demanding, yet for many, highly rewarding career requires technical prowess, scientific proficiency, and analytical sensibilities. It also requires a strong background in forensic science and criminal justice through a comprehensive education and plenty of on-the-job training.
Professional rewards for crime scene investigators come in the form of gratification and fulfillment, as well as remuneration. For example, as of May 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $52,840, with the top 10 percent earning more than $85,210.
Salary averages for this profession are often dependent upon:
Many entry-level CSI positions require an education in the form of a four-year bachelor’s degree in the field of forensic science or a similar program, although some employers accept candidates with two-year certificates or associate’s degrees for entry-level work. The level of pay, in most instances, is commensurate with the degree earned; therefore, many individuals in this field go on to achieve bachelor’s and even graduate degrees as to achieve better-paying positions.
A crime scene investigator’s salary is, more often not, dependent upon experience, and it is not uncommon to find employers seeking candidates with specific experience for CSI jobs. Crime scene investigators may begin their careers as apprentices or technicians, while senior crime scene investigators with significant experience may work as supervisors or crime scene leaders.
For example, criminalists in Los Angeles, California, who are responsible for searching for, collecting, and preserving physical evidence in the investigation of a crime, may earn a salary of between $62,598 and $115,905, depending on the amount of experience they possess.
The salaries of crime scene specialists in the City of Austin, Texas, are also indicative of the difference experience can make. Crime scene specialists, who must have at least two years of experience in crime scene investigation, can earn up to $55,641 a year; crime scene specialist seniors, who must have at least three years of experience in crime scene investigation, can earn up to $58,406 a year; and crime scene unit supervisors, who must have at least five years of experience in crime scene investigation, can earn up to $75,556 a year.
Crime scene investigators in larger cities or states, because of the more demanding nature of the job and the sheer amount of work, enjoy higher salaries. It comes as no surprise, then, that the top-paying state for CSI professionals is Washington, D.C., which pays these professionals an annual mean salary of $73,010, as of May 2012. Other states with some of the highest salaries for CSI jobs in the United States during the same time were:
- California: $72,000
- Michigan: $70,650
- Massachusetts: $69,360
- Virginia: $66,360
The top-paying metropolitan areas for crime scene investigators also reflect the trend of CSI professionals earning higher salaries in more densely populated areas:
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California: $87,210
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, California: $79,220
- Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, California: $77,160
- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, California: $77,060
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD: $74,500
- Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Illinois: $75,570
It also comes as no surprise that the states with the highest employment levels for crime scene investigators were:
Salary ranges for crime scene investigators differs significantly based on the industry in which they work. For example, the BLS reported that, as of May 2012, crime scene investigators earned a median annual salary of $94,800 if they worked for a federal governmental agency, compared with just $55,950 a year for local governments and $51,100 for state governments. These salaries are often in line with the progression of many CSI professionals’ careers, as local and state governments may employ crime scene investigators with little to no experience, while federal agencies typically require those CSI professionals with more experience.
For example the FBI has its own team of crime scene investigators within its Evidence Response Team, the majority of who possess expertise in such areas as evidence response and crime scene documentation. This federal agency provides technical support to local and state law enforcement agencies in the areas of counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and forensic investigations, thereby highlighting the need for crime scene investigators with significance experience and expertise. Recent statistics reveal that special agents within the FBI’s Evidence Response Team earn between $34,000 and $130,000 a year.