Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
Crime scene investigators (CSIs) go by many names, including evidence technician, crime scene technician, forensic investigator, crime scene analyst, criminalistics officer and more.
In the past, most CSIs were trained police officers. In fact, most still work out of police stations today. However, the role is increasingly being given to civilians with scientific, rather than law enforcement, expertise.
CSIs spend most of their time in the field, working at crime scenes. The CSI’s job is to:
The physical evidence collected by CSIs may include fingerprints, footprints, trace materials, hair and fibers and biological evidence found at the scene and on the victim’s body.
The evidence collected by the CSI is then transferred to a lab, in strict accordance with chain-of-evidence procedures. In the lab, technicians, including forensic chemists, forensic biologists and forensic toxicologists, analyze the samples. CSIs rarely process evidence, unless they have special training in fingerprint processing or blood spatter analysis, for example.
The CSI then prepares a written report detailing how and where all the evidence was collected. CSIs often must testify in court about their findings.
A CSI’s work is often messy, smelly, long and physically demanding. But most CSIs find helping to solve crimes by uncovering the physical evidence rewarding and challenging.
This career profile was reviewed and approved by Max Houck, M.A., Director, Forensic Science Initiative, West Virginia University.
A CSI must be prepared to work:
Seeing the results of crimes on a daily basis can be emotionally taxing on the CSI. The workload can be overwhelming and the pressure to “work faster” intense. Being on call can take time away from family and friends, leading to burnout.
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Educational requirements are often set by the hiring agency. Some require a two-year degree, while others demand a bachelor's or even master's degree with extensive study in both scientific subjects and criminal justice.
If you are interested in becoming a crime scene investigator (CSI), start asking questions now. If you want to work as a CSI in a specific city or county, contact the police department or sheriff’s department and ask whether the local CSIs are trained as police officers or civilian CSIs. In many areas, police officers do double duty as CSIs, spending the rest of their time doing police work.
If you decide to train as a police officer, you will likely need several years of experience before you can apply to work as a CSI.
Think ahead. Most CSIs eventually stop working in the field and go back to police work or transfer to the lab as forensic technicians.
Keep your record clean. CSIs must undergo background checks and, while a perfect record is not essential, you will have to answer for any legal infractions, even traffic tickets.
In High School
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Last updated: August 26, 2015
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