The field of crime scene investigation is multi-faceted as there are a number of different specialties that professionals can take on. In basic terms a crime scene investigator is someone who collects, preserves, and analyzes evidence found at the scene of a crime. Regardless of area of expertise all CSI professionals work while keeping the same set of regulations and protocols a priority. These protocols include three keys areas:
1. Scene Recognition: This is the first step to crime scene investigation and it involves approaching a crime scene in an organized matter in order to determine the size and extent of it. They must ensure that any possible evidence is not compromised in anyway thus they must determine the resources and equipment needed to successful collect evidence in the next phase.
2. Scene Documentation: This stage of CSI involves documenting and processing physical evidence in which case must be accurate and factual. The collection of evidence is done through note taking, diagrams, reports, photographs, and sketches.
3. Collection of Evidence: This is the portion of the job where actual physical evidence is collected. This is done through careful technical and scientific methods to ensure it is preserved as unchanged as possible so that it can later be examined with accuracy.
The most common level of degree pursued is a four-year bachelor's degree, as most employers strictly hire candidates with a strong educational background. Even upon graduation, graduates will often need to go through extensive on-the-job training before they are able to work outside of supervision. Professionals often seek post-graduate training when they are interested in holding higher specialized positions within the field.
Associate Degrees in Crime Scene Investigation
Students enrolled in an associate degree program can graduate with their degree in just two years. This level of program will open up entry-level opportunities for graduates in local, state, and federal agencies. Individuals interested in earning their associate's degree must have a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Most programs will also require that the applicant take a placement exam to ensure they are placed in the right classes. Students will take part in training that covers both forensic science and criminal justice, which is often comprised of 60-credit hours. Key coursework includes classes like introduction to crime scene technology, crime scene safety, introduction to forensic science, latent fingerprint development, fingerprint classification, courtroom presentation of scientific evidence, and crime scene photography. Students will also be required to complete general education courses. Annual cost of tuition and range from as little as $5,000 to $30,000.
Bachelor's Degrees in Crime Scene Investigation
This is the most common route that students take in order to start their CSI career. First time freshmen will finish with their bachelor's degree in four years while students who have already earned their associate's degree can finish in two years. The curriculum at this level will cover a variety of topics including the human body's response to trauma, laboratory techniques, and the proper treatment of evidence. Student will participate in classes including homicide investigation I & II, the investigation of white-collar crime, survey of chemistry, introduction to environmental science, and criminal procedure. Students will also spend a lot of time in the lab going over mock crime scene exercises. This fieldwork will give students the hands-on experience they will need to be successful as professionals. Graduates will have to opportunity to go on to work for law enforcement agencies as well as crime labs. Typical job titles include police officer, crime laboratory analyst, and forensic pathologist. In order to qualify for bachelor's degree program applicants must have a high school diploma or a GED. Applicants who have earned college credit will also be required to submit their college transcripts during the admissions process in which they will then be evaluated and considered for transfer credit. The annual tuition for the level of program will vary depending on school of attendance. Private school tuition averages around $26,273 while public school tuition averages around $7,020.
Master's Degrees in Crime Scene Investigation
A master's degree in crime scene investigation is designed for individuals who are looking to increase their proficiency in forensic sciences. Over the course of two years students will be involved in rigorous scientific training by participating in classes such as science of fingerprints, forensic pathology, medico legal death investigation, bloodstain pattern analysis, firearms and tool mark identification, and digital image processing. Many graduates go on to work as forensic science technicians and hold leadership positions, which can result in higher pay. Individuals who are interested in participating in a master's program must have a bachelor's degree with as least one semester in chemistry and one semester in biology. Respectful GRE scores will also be necessary for admission. Applicants must write a statement of purpose outlining their educational and career goals. Most programs will also require that applicants submit a reference letter from a previous professor or professional mentor who can attest to the applicant's likely success in the program. The total cost of tuition for a master's degree program can range from $30,000 to $120,000 depending on the school being attended.
Doctoral Degrees in Crime Scene Investigation
Individuals who wish to build upon their knowledge and skills as crime scene investigators will find that a doctorate degree in forensic science will aid them in their career aspirations whether they be in research or teaching. Students will be immersed in extensive study of forensic science, which will take them five to seven years to complete. Doctoral curriculum includes classes such as crime scene reconstruction, criminal law & ethics, forensic trace analysis, quality management in forensic science, forensic serology, and human molecular biology. Students will also have to write and defend a dissertation, which is usually done towards the end of their studies. Individuals who are interested in doctoral programs will need to have a master's degree in forensic science or a similar field as a background in biology and chemistry is important. Applicants will also need to showcase their work experience therefore a professional resume will be required for admission. The applicant will also need to submit two letters of recommendation from professional or educational references who can attest to the applicant's prior achievements within the field of forensic science. Depending on whether the student is attending a public or private school the total cost of tuition will vary from $53,625 to $113,035.
Accreditation plays an important role in the educational process and it should be considered prior to making a commitment to any college or program. For school accreditation, there is either national or regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is awarded by six regional agencies to four-year university institutions. National accreditation is usually limited to vocational or trade schools. Accreditation takes place to ensure that a program is offering the highest quality of education possible to the students involved. By participating in an accredited program students can rest assured that they are being well prepared for their future careers. Accreditation also provides the opportunity for students to seek federal financial aid as it is not available to non-accredited programs. Lastly, students who wish to move on to graduate programs or simply change institutions will want to seek accreditation as it make the transfer process much simpler.
Certification within the field of crime scene investigation is not required, however, it has become a commonplace. Individuals can voluntarily seek certification through three major associations, which will ultimately set them apart from their peers during hiring and advancement opportunities.
1. International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA):
Individuals seeking certification through the ICSIA must have at least two years experiencing working with crimes scenes for a law enforcement agency. They must also poses no less than 50 hours of post-secondary courses. After the requirements have been met the applicant will be eligible to take the written exam administered by the ICSIA, which consists of 100 questions. The applicant will also take another written exam consisting of a mock crime scene that will test proper processing and handling protocols.
2. International Association for Identification (IAI):
The minimum requirements to become certified under the IAI includes at least one year in crime-scene related activities and that applicant must have completed at least 48-hours of CSI board-approved instruction within the last five years. If the candidate meets all minimum requirements they will then be eligible to take the exam, which they must pass with at least a 75 percent. Candidates must also submit two letters of endorsement.
3. The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI):
In order to take the certification exam administered by the ACFEI the candidate must be at least 21 years old. In addition the candidate must have an associate's degree with four years of work experience, a bachelor's degree with two years of work experience, or seven years of work experience in lieu of a degree.
The field of crime scene investigation can be somewhat broad therefore there are several different routes that a professional can take depending on their personal strengths and interests. Individuals can prepare for these areas of specialty by taking classes that will support them during their college studies.
Crime Laboratory Analyst: These types of professionals are forensic scientists that analyze crime scene evidence in labs to help identify the right suspect. They use principles of genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to aid them in their investigations.
Forensic Engineer: Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, or structures that fail and in which case cause personal injury or property damage. Forensic engineers are most often used in product liability cases.
Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are forensic doctors who perform autopsies in order to figure out an individual's cause of death. A medical degree is required for this field of work.
Forensic Psychologist: This specific specialty merges the field of psychology with law. Forensic psychologists often work in court settings and evaluate the mental state of criminals and victims.