Forensic Investigator: Becoming a CSI

forensic investigatorLet’s face it, we can’t all be Horatio Caine from CSI Miami. David Caruso plays Caine, head of the Miami crime lab, CSI super cop, and all around bad ass! Although we can’t all be Caine, we can strive to become forensic investigators, working side by side with the police to solve crimes from behind the scenes. We’ll learn the ins and outs of forensic investigators- what it takes to become one and all the exciting work you could be doing on the job. An introduction to criminology may be just the start you’re looking for if this field interests you!

Forensic investigators generally have to get a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or another natural science such as chemistry, biology, or a similar field. Occasionally you can find work after going through a vocational or tech school, but it is a competitive field to get into. If it’s been a while since you studied biology, you might want to check out this course as a refresher Basic Biology. You also want to have some experience with criminal justice to understand the job requirements. This career is well paid and has many advantages aside from the obvious  one, saving the world, one crime scene at a time.

Forensic investigators use evidence to determine what crime occurred, who the criminal was, and even how the crime transpired, step by step. They use many different kinds of evidence including blood, tissue, bodily fluids, hair, ballistics, fingerprints, and even anthropological information. 100 years ago, many crimes went unsolved and some men wrongly convicted. With the development of modern forensics, all of that is changing!

Upon arriving at a fresh crime scene, forensic investigators will create a drawing of the scene with all evidence, victims, and any other helpful pieces of information. The scale should be as close as possible to what it actually is. Then, police and prosecutors will use that drawing, along with photographs taken to re-create the crime during the investigation and in court.

After preserving the crime scene in photographs and with a drawing, the forensic investigators will then pull together all evidence that they can find that is related to the crime scene. Sometimes the crime scene is a limited to a small room, but often times it can spread over the course of multiple rooms and even acres of land! It’s crucial to locate and preserve even the smallest piece of evidence, such as a drop of blood or a strand of hair.

Finally, the evidence that was gathered is bagged, sealed, and recorded as evidence. This “chain of custody” is recorded so that there is no question of authenticity or whether it was mishandled. Based on the evidence, a hypothesis is created about how the crime occurred and how the evidence supports that theory. In turn, police can be pointed towards a suspect and can capture and prosecute the guilty party.

forensic investigatorBeing a forensic investigator is not your typical lab rat job. It may not be the ideal career for someone who is completely introverted and petrified of being in public. In this field, it’s important that a forensic investigator is comfortable speaking and writing, as they often have to communicate with police detectives and prosecutors.

On a daily basis, a bulk of a forensic investigator’s time is spent filling out paperwork and analyzing evidence in the lab. Some times they also have to testify in court about the chain of custody or the state of the evidence and how it led them to believe that their theory of the crime is accurate. You should also be able to work well with others, delegating work and collaborating to solve the crime because many departments have teams of forensic investigators working on any given case.

A career in forensic investigation can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining, but it can also be highly rewarding. You must have a strong stomach and a detail oriented eye. You have to be able to distance yourself from the victims and be unbiased and scientific with your method. Occasionally the work can even be slightly dangerous when involving serial killers, toxins, or bombs.

Math must be another strong point because determining the path of a bullet, its velocity, or point of origin may be the difference in solving the crime. The smallest error could get an entire case thrown out, so it is important to be meticulous and careful when processing evidence. Unfortunately, the legal system is flawed and mistakes do occur. Try taking a look at our course on How Blind is Justice to learn more about these troubles. The work that a forensic investigator does is crucial to the legal system and must be taken seriously.

Salaries for forensic investigators range from about $35K to around $100K a year, depending on location, experience, and employer. The field is absolutely growing and there is a high demand for skilled forensic investigators. They are expected to boom by 20% in the labor market, so now is a good time to look into a career in forensic investigation. If crime and criminology fascinate you, also check out our course in Crime Studies to better understand the criminal mind!

So, if you want to be the next one to say “If you lie down with the Devil, you wake up in Hell,” like Horatio Caine, a strong background in science and criminal law will greatly help you get into the field and move your way up. Forensic investigators that enter the field with a Bachelor’s degree make more from the offset, and often make more in the long run. It is a good idea to have a degree in science and possibly one in criminal justice or law. The more educated you are going into the field, the more trusted you will be with crucial evidence that will make or break a conviction. Further, the more likely you are to be called upon to testify in key cases and help make the case for the State.