Although the specific roles of crime scene investigators (CSI) are defined by the agency through which they work, these professionals must be adept at identifying, processing and collecting physical evidence, and they must have a respect and understanding of the criminal justice system and the protocols and procedures associated with the collection of physical evidence at the scene of a crime.
Expertise in a specific area of crime scene investigation is also commonplace in this profession, with CSIs often skilled specifically to handle latent evidence, crime scene photographs, footwear and tire impressions, or DNA evidence, just to name a few.
Forensic science, criminal justice, and natural sciences programs are often a requirement to work as a CSI in local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as it is through a solid educational program that students gain a framework of knowledge in both science and the criminal justice system.
However, once an educational program is complete, learning doesn’t end. In fact, it is after being hired by a law enforcement agency that much of the training begins. Crime scene investigator training is part and parcel of the profession, as there is simply nothing as effective or as valuable as on-the-job training.
Where Do CSI Professionals Train?
Training for the crime scene investigator can be accomplished in many ways. Generally, it is the hiring law enforcement agency that sets the standards of training for new hires, from formal training programs and courses to supervised apprenticeships for a set period of time. Some states require certification/licensure for crime scene investigators, which often means additional training requirements for these forensic science professionals.
There are a number of national CSI training programs. For example, forensic-related training events and programs are offered through the National Institute of Justice. The NIJ also provides trainers and administrators with reference material as to develop training programs for crime scene investigators. Training materials include information on:
- Arriving at the Scene: Initial Response/Prioritization of Efforts
- Preliminary Documentation and the Evaluation of the Scene
- Processing the Scene
- Completing and Recording the Crime Scene Investigation
The National Forensic Science Technology Center provides forensic science training courses for local, state and tribal agencies. Some of the training programs offered throughout the year through the NFST include:
- Technical Working Group on Crime Scene Investigation
- Intermediate Crime Scene Investigation
- Essentials of Crime Scene Investigation
- DNA Biological Screening for Law Enforcement
Are There State Requirements for Training?
Training for crime scene investigators is often completed during the state certification. Some states, such as Indiana, certify its crime scene investigators through the Crime Scene Certification committee. This program, which is supported by the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board, sets minimum standards of training and experience for CSIs, and ensures that competence levels are achieved through a practical examination.
To qualify for certification as a crime scene investigator in Indiana, applicants must, along with their application, submit proof of the completion of at least five, specific types of crime scene investigations and proof of at least 120 hours of crime scene-related training. Crime scene investigators in Indiana must recertify every 3 years and complete at least 24 hours of continuing education in crime scene related topics to qualify for re-certification.
Crime scene investigators in Georgia, on the other hand, may achieve certification as a crime scene investigator by attending the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and completing specific classes or by achieving certification through the International Association for Identification.
Professional certification as a Crime Scene Investigator through the International Association for Identification (IAI) requires that candidates have at least one year of experience in crime-scene related activities and that they have completed at least 48 hours of Board-approved instruction in crime scene activities within the last 5 years.
Training programs through the IAI allow students to focus their studies on a specific area of crime scene investigation, such as:
- Alternate Light Source Training
- Arson Investigations
- Crime Scene Documentation
- Crime Scene Investigations
- Death Investigations
- Evidence Photography
- Footwear and Tire Tread
- Forensic Anthropology
- Latent Print Detection/Comparison
Candidates for IAI certification must pass a written examination, which includes 200 questions and a time limit of 3 hours.
Individuals may seek in-service training through a number of educational institutions or state agencies as to meet the state or employer requirements.
For example, the University of Tennessee, through the National Forensic Academy, provides a ten-week training course for forensic responders, as well as a number of specialized training courses in:
- Digital photography
- Crime scene mapping
- Crime scene management
- Bloodstain pattern analysis
- Latent print processing
The Missouri State Highway Patrol offers a number of training programs as to allow criminal investigators, detectives, and crime scene investigators to meet state certification continuing education requirements. For example, a Crime Scene Investigation Academy provides training in the numerous forensic disciplines, including bloodstain pattern analysis, DNA, trace evidence, latent fingerprint recovery, and casting impressions, just to name a few.