Criminalistics refers to the methods forensic technicians and investigators use to solve crimes. Continue reading to learn about the degree programs that can lead to a career in forensic science or law enforcement, including what you might earn as a technician.
Criminalistics is an area of forensic science that involves analyzing and interpreting evidence recovered from a crime scene. Criminalists, including crime scene investigators and forensic scientists, search for and collect evidence that will shed light on the crime committed. They use this evidence to recreate the crime scene, find DNA or determine what firearms were used, after which, they draw conclusions and present the evidence in court. Areas of specialization and skill sets can include evidence analysis, toxicology and document examination; you may also concentrate or become proficient in firearms identification, lie detection and fingerprinting.
A bachelor's degree in forensic science may qualify you for a position as a forensic technician. You could also pursue a career as a patrol or police officer, crime scene investigator, private detective or security guard. Completion of a graduate degree program in criminalistsics or forensic science can lead to a career as a forensic scientist, forensics researcher or community college professor.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 13,430 individuals worked as forensic science technicians in May 2013. Between 2012 and 2022, employment of forensic science technicians was expected to increase by 6%, or slower-than average, nationwide. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $54,360 (www.bls.gov).
Degree programs in criminalistics and forensic science are available on campus and online and can be found at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. As an undergraduate, you'll explore fingerprinting, blood stain analysis and computer crimes. Courses in criminal justice may allow for further studies in crime scene investigation, evidence handling and arson. You'll also take math and science courses, including chemistry, biology, physics and statistics, and examine their practical applications in forensics.
At the graduate level, you could pursue a master's degree program in forensic sciences; some master's degree programs in criminalistics or criminal justice also include a specialization in forensics. Once enrolled, you can learn how to handle and store evidence, analyze DNA and the chemical breakdown of controlled substances and reconstruct crime scenes. You may also learn how to analyze patterns, identify firearms and profile criminals. The study of advanced math and science, as well as the ethical issues associated with crime scene investigations, might also be part of the program.
According to the BLS, individuals interested in working in forensic science should be curious and perseverant, enjoy math and science and have good communication skills. They should also be organized, think clearly and pay close attention to details (www.bls.gov).
A bachelor's degree in a relevant field of study and two years of professional experience may qualify you for a professional certification from the American Board of Criminalistics. To earn your credential, you must pass an exam that tests your basic forensic skills, including those related to DNA and trace evidence, crime scene reconstruction and drug analysis. The exam will also assess your understanding of explosives, firearms and photography (www.criminalistics.com).