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Steps to Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator

Find out how to become a crime scene investigator. Learn the steps to take in becoming one, plus find out what they do, how much they make and whether the career will grow in the coming years.

Career Information at a Glance

Crime scene investigators gather pivotal evidence from crime scenes and analyze it to determine what happened. A bachelor's degree in a field like biology, forensic science or criminal justice is required to get a job as a crime scene investigator. The table below provides a quick summary of the career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Forensic science, biology, or criminal justice
Training Required On-the-job training
Key Skills Problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical skills
Job Growth (2018-2028) 14% (for forensic science technicians)*
Median Salary (2018) $58,230 (for forensic science technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Crime Scene Investigators Do?

A normal person would arrive at the scene of a crime and see pure chaos. A crime scene investigator arrives at a crime scene and sees patterns. Their job is to observe the scene and decide which evidence is vital, carefully collect that evidence and analyze it at a lab. They'll take pictures of the scene, do sketches and write down observations that will later help them reconstruct what happened. Eventually, their work can help the prosecution build a case and could bring the perpetrator to justice. If necessary, they may even testify in court about their findings in the case.

What Degree or Certification Do You Need to Become a Crime Scene Investigator?

If you want to become a crime scene investigator, you'll need to get a bachelor's degree in forensic science or a natural science like biology or chemistry. Coursework in these programs would typically include things like DNA, pathology and toxicology. Also, some police officers become crime scene investigators when they have the right educational backgrounds or expertise in the field.

A wide range of certifications exists for crime scene investigators, though none are mandatory to enter the profession. Most are specializations that help forensic professionals advance in the industry; specializations like the Bloodstain Pattern Analyst Certification, Footwear Certification, Forensic Photography & Imaging Certification and Latent Print Certification.

What Skills or Training is Required?

Crime scene investigators typically receive on-the-job training after getting hired. For instance, they may be assigned to follow a more experienced investigator until they learn the ropes. Since technology in this field changes so quickly, investigators are also asked to stay on top of advances by attending continuing education classes or seminars.

Aside from training, investigators need to be detail-oriented, meticulous, proficient in math and able to think critically when presented with complex sets of data.

How Much Do Crime Scene Investigators Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary figures for forensic science technicians (which includes crime scene investigators). According to the BLS findings in May 2018, they made a median salary of $58,230 per year. Technicians working for state government, excluding education and hospitals made the most, at $59,250 median, during that same year.

What's the Job Growth Look Like?

The field of crime scene investigation is fairly small. In fact, the BLS estimates that there were 16,700 crime scene investigators (forensic science technicians) in 2018. It projects that number to grow to 19,100 by 2028, which is a rise of 14%. This is quite a bit faster than the average for all occupations during this time period.