What Does it Mean to Study Crime Scene Investigation?
Crime scene investigation is one of the most challenging fields in today's job market. Crime scene investigators are often the first people on the scene after a crime has been reported. These professionals are given the responsibility of securing the crime scene and collecting information that can be essential to criminal convictions. It's fascinating work that is ever-changing, but it requires an exceptionally focused mindset and the ability to separate one's emotions from one's work.
Crime scene investigators and forensic scientists must:
- Collect and preserve material evidence found at the crime scene
- Measure, record and analyze chemical substances, tissue samples, physical materials, and ballistics evidence using advanced equipment
- Analyze laboratory findings and test results to classify evidence collected at the crime
- Confer with experts in fingerprinting, ballistics, documents, handwriting, electronics, medicine, chemistry, or metallurgy to interpret evidence
- Reconstruct crime scenes
- Prepare presentations and reports of findings (including investigation methods and laboratory techniques)
- Testify as a witness in trials or hearings
Types of Crime Scene Investigation Degrees
Careers in crime scene investigation generally require an associate or bachelor's degree in crime scene forensics, criminal justice, forensic science or a related field. Students may also need to earn state licensure or specialized certification for a particular concentration in their field. So when you're setting out to get your degree, license or certification, spend some time thinking about your ultimate career goals. Is there a particular type of crime you'd like to specialize in investigating, or a particular state in which you want to practice? Be sure to find out exactly what the requirements are in your area.
Online College Degrees in Crime Scene Investigation
Working adults can earn a degree in crime scene investigation through on-campus or online college degree programs. While campus programs offer more hands-on practice, online degrees in crime scene investigation are designed to provide solid general knowledge of forensic science, law enforcement, and technological advancements to students who don't have the time or resources for a traditional campus program. For a well-rounded degree that expands beyond the techniques of evidence collection, look for a program that covers criminal law and investigation, as well as crime scene safety. Depending upon the discipline, local internships and apprenticeships may provide the real-world experience that students in online degree programs need. These positions offer exposure to the field of crime scene investigation and give students a taste of the skills necessary to be successful crime scene technicians.
All of these courses require focus and the ability to separate emotional reactions from what professional crime scene investigators face every day on the job. Crime scene professionals need to be ready to handle different situations on a daily basis.
Online Certificate Programs
Certificates in crime scene investigation are also quite popular for those seeking entry-level experience in the criminal justice field. There are many opportunities to complete certificate requirements online. Certificate recipients will learn the correct way to examine a scene, using the evidence from fingerprint examinations and other material that can be helpful to other investigators and prosecutors. In many cases, online certificate programs are designed to add a layer of expertise to a professional who already has experience in other facets of the criminal justice or law enforcement field.
On-the-Job Career Training
Your education shouldn't end with your college degree. Ongoing training is a necessity in this field, and many employers help their investigators stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. The Las Vegas Police Department, for example, provides entry-level internships such as Crime Scene Investigators I. Crime scene investigators at this level collect evidence at crime scenes and bring it for analysis at laboratories. They are able to ask for assistance from superiors in their department. Those who work at the level of Crime Scene Analyst II have the full responsibility for surveying the crime scene and are not expected to rely on the expertise of others to complete their work.
The opportunity for younger recruits to learn from seasoned professionals is one of the advantages of the law enforcement field. The reverse is also true: recently trained employees can share their knowledge of new technologies and methods with veterans of the force.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Crime Scene Investigation?
Though the media may glamorize the image of a crime scene professional, in reality the work is grueling and time-consuming. Salary varies, depending on location and seniority. However, like in the majority of public service positions, the motivation for this job involves a dedication to solving crime and protecting the public--and an appreciation for solving puzzles. These types of professions are typically male-dominated, but as opportunities for women have increased and societal stereotypes change, females are beginning to make greater developments in the profession.
There are also many teaching opportunities for individuals considering a career in this industry. Security and crime prevention are essential components to a well-functioning community, and more students each year express interest in pursuing such a career. As criminals become more adept at eluding authority, the methods of fighting crime will continue to grow in complexity. Graduates of online crime scene investigation degree program will have direct exposure to cutting-edge advancements in investigative technology.
Your crime scene investigation degree might qualify you for the following careers:
- Crime Scene Technician
- Crime Scene Photographer
- Fingerprint Classification Specialist
- Crime Lab Assistant
- Medical Examiner and Investigator
- Latent Print Examiner/Trainee
- Fire Inspector/Investigator
- Forensic Science Specialist
- Property and Evidence Personnel
Crime scene investigation professionals should possess:
- Keen observational skills and an eye for the unexpected
- Strong physical conditioning
- The mentality to cope with very unpleasant and gruesome situations
- A strong interest in the sciences
- The ability to work independently and also as part of a team
- Direct and clear ability to communicate with co-workers
- Strong technical skills
- Receptivity to constantly learning new skills and technologies
Work environments can vary greatly depending on your location, the climate, and the challenges that go along with investigating the scene. Students must be trained in the proper use of cameras to document the crime scene. The variety of skills used by crime scene investigators is one of the most attractive features of this growing profession.
It is not uncommon for investigators to work hours outside of a regular 40-hour workweek. Investigators must frequently work night, weekend, early morning, and holiday hours. Most investigators will spend much of their time in the office or lab, examining evidence, writing reports and coming up with recommendations and theories. The majority of the out-of-office work will happen at the scene itself.
Forensic Science & Crime Scene Technician Job Outlook
Competition in the investigation field is keen, because the field is attractive to many recent graduates as well as to working professionals. Many employment opportunities will be created by retirement and career changes of those already working in the field.
Private contractors, various consulting firms, and government organizations such as the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, INS, FBI, CIA, and NSA employ crime scene professionals in growing numbers. Successful investigators are unique individuals whose lives are impacted on a daily basis because of the graphic nature of the work. It can be difficult to handle the rigorous demands and emotional toll of a crime scene investigation, but there is great reward in helping to solve a case. Investigators make an impact on our justice system every day.
Crime Scene Investigation Certification and Licensure
Most investigative employers do not have official requirements for the education and training of their employees, though most private investigators have previous job experience in other fields and often have college degrees. Most often, those who pursue a career as a private investigator have an occupational background in law enforcement, government jobs, the military, or working for insurance companies or private security companies.
Most states require that investigators have appropriate licensure. The requirements for licensure vary from state to state, though many states require that private investigators and detectives complete a mandatory training program. Some states, including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota, have no licensing requirements for investigators and detectives. California, however, ensures that investigators meet strict parameters that include passing a background check, passing an examination, and passing an evaluation given by the Federal Department of Justice.