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How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Washington

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There are currently approximately 200 forensic scientists employed in Washington State. The vast majority of them (roughly 130) work for Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services. The others are employed by various analytical, medical and diagnostic laboratories. The job outlook for forensic scientists in Washington is good, with an expected 24 percent growth in jobs by 2018.

Required Qualifications for a Forensic Scientist Job with the Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratories

There are four job classifications for forensic scientists in Washington: forensic scientist I, II, III and IV.

The following requirements are the same for all four levels:

  • Education – Bachelor of Science degree in forensic science or a natural science; must include a minimum of 20 semester or 30 quarter hours of chemistry and five semester or eight quarter hours of physics.
  • Complete a Personal Background Evaluation Form.
  • Undergo a thorough background investigation.
  • Take a polygraph test.
  • Possess a valid driver’s license; present certified copy of driving record.
  •  Have no felony convictions.
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions involving controlled substances, theft, moral turpitude, fraud, larceny or crimes of violence.

The “experience” requirement differs with job classification as follows:

  • FS I – One year full-time paid work in a crime, research or analytical lab OR one year graduate study in forensic science or a natural science.
  • FS II – Two years full-time paid employment in an analytical, crime or research lab, one year of which must have been analyzing physical evidence and testifying as an expert in a court of law.
  • FS III – Two years working as a FSII OR three years full-time experience in a forensic science lab which included testifying in court.
  • FS IV – Two years working as a FSIII OR five years experience in a forensic science lab which included testifying in court.

A list of open positions with Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services, as well application instructions, is available online at the lab’s website. Call the Human Resources Department at 360-704-2300 for additional information about employment with the State of Washington.

The State of Washington has three schools with degree programs in forensic science from which approximately 13 students graduate each year.

Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services

The Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory provides a wide range of services to city, county and state criminal justice agencies, law enforcement officers, medical examiners and coroners. The crime lab division is headquartered in Seattle, with adjunct labs in Olympia, Tacoma, Spokane, Vancouver, Kennewick and Marysville. The duties of the forensic scientists who work in these labs vary with their job classification; however, they all identify evidence and often link evidence to a specific person or crime scene. All of the labs have received accreditation from the American Society of Crime Lab Director’s Accreditation Bureau.

Services provided by the State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Division include:

  • Forensic Toxicology – Includes the breath/alcohol analysis and drug evaluation/classification programs
  • DNA Analysis – Develops DNA profiles from bodily fluids like blood, semen, saliva, sweat, etc.
  • CODIS – The national DNA database program is located in Seattle where technicians attempt to match DNA from a crime scene to the database which, as of 2010, contained over 8.7 million offender profiles and over 330,000 profiles from crime scenes. It is constantly growing.
  • Firearms/Toolmarks – Examines and compares firearms, ammunition components and  gunshot residues; determines shooting distances.
  • Microanalysis – Examines and compares trace evidence like hair, fiber, paint, glass, explosion residue and impressions. Analyzes blood stain patterns.
  • Chemistry – Identifies controlled substances, pharmaceuticals, poisons, clandestine drug operation materials and ignitable liquids in fire residue.
  • Latent Fingerprint Analysis – Examines and identifies latent fingerprints. The central latent print lab is in Olympia.
  • Questioned Documents Program – Examines and compares handwriting, printing, paper, inks and altered documents.

Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory scientists also provide training to law enforcement officers in subjects such as:

  • Arson investigation
  • Controlled substances
  • Document investigation
  • Latent fingerprint processing
  • Sexual assault evidence

Forensic Scientist Salaries in the State of Washington

In general, forensic scientists in Washington State earn between $42,630 and $72,270. College graduates in entry-level trainee jobs earn less. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the annual mean salary of forensic scientists in Washington State as $54,900 with the following city differences:

  • Seattle-Tacoma:  $64,610
  • Seattle-Bellevue:  $62,770
  • Vancouver/Portland OR:  $60,810

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