How To Become a Crime Scene Investigator

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: July 12, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Criminal Justice
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Are you fascinated with crime scenes? Have you always wanted to help solve crimes? Then, becoming a crime scene investigator might be the perfect option for you.

There are many good reasons to become a crime scene investigator. Whether you want to help solve crimes or simply want an exciting career, this might be a good path for you.

Before you learn how to become a crime scene investigator, you should understand the job duties. Let’s look at what a crime scene investigator does and how you can become one.

How To Become a Crime Scene Investigator

Duties of a Crime Scene Investigator

As a crime scene investigator, you will look at evidence found at the scene of a crime. You will likely help with identifying and collecting the evidence. Once collected, your job will shift to analyzing and documenting the evidence.

You might be in charge of taking crime scene photographs, along with packing, labeling, and transporting evidence. In addition, written reports will need to be prepared.

Crime scene investigators work with technicians, crime scene analysts, and forensic investigators regularly. You might be in charge of analyzing tire marks, bodily fluids, fingerprints, footprints, hair samples, and other types of evidence.

This is one of the most important jobs when it comes to solving a crime. In addition, the evidence you find and examine will likely be used during legal proceedings.

6 Steps to Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator

Step #1 – Make Sure You Want to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

It will take quite a bit of training and experience to become a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator). Before you head down this career path, make sure you understand the job, and you want to become a CSI.

You will need to have very good technical and interpersonal skills for this job. It’s also important to realize you will often see graphic things at a crime scene. Therefore, make sure you can handle the difficult environment of the job before gaining the necessary training.

Research the profession online and look at job descriptions for crime scene investigators. If possible, find a way to shadow someone in the field for a day or two. This can help you to see if it’s the right career option for you.

Step #2 – Meet the Basic Requirements

Before you can become a crime scene investigator, you will need to meet the basic requirements. In some cases, you will have to become a police officer before working as a CSI. The minimum requirements, in this scenario, include:

Not all of the requirements may be necessary to become a crime scene investigator. It will depend on your state and employer.

Step #3 – Get Your Degree

Before you enter college, make sure you do well in high school. A high GPA and high scores on the SAT or ACT can help you get into a better degree program. With a good prep course for the SAT or ACT, you can make sure to score very high.

Most CSIs will get an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science or Criminal Justice. You might find a program specifically in crime scene investigation, but these are not easy to find. Courses will likely include chemistry, psychology, evidence collection, biology, math, and courtroom presentation.

Along with getting a degree, you will likely need to become licensed or certified. Every state is a bit different, but this is a common requirement. Most states require you to become licensed or certified within 18 months of starting a crime scene investigator job.

It’s common for states to use the certification requirements of the International Association for Identification or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association. Becoming certified may require anywhere from 48 to 144 instructional hours. You will also need to be working full time in this career and pass the necessary exams.

Step #4 – Build your Resume

You will need to have a good resume that stands out if you want to land a job as a crime scene investigator. Therefore, it’s a good idea to join any relevant professional organization and gain any experience you can. In addition, an internship can be very helpful to your resume.

Step #5 – Pass the Necessary Background Checks

Depending on the employer, you will likely need to pass at least a basic criminal background check. In some cases, this may be a more in-depth check, especially if you will be given security clearance. You will likely need to provide fingerprints, as well.

Typically, minor incidents, such as traffic tickets and certain misdemeanors, will not disqualify you. In addition, most things that might have happened while you were a minor will also not disqualify you from this type of job.

Step #6 – Complete On-The-Job Training

It’s rather common for crime scene investigators to complete on-the-job training for about six months. However, it can last as long as two years. This type of training will allow you to learn from other professionals and gain the necessary skills.

During this training, you will see many different things and situations. For example, you may spend time shadowing investigators on different jobs.

During your on-the-job training, you may also earn additional certifications. In addition, you might learn about new techniques, new laws, and updated procedures. Some continuing education courses may be required, as well.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator

What is the average annual salary of a crime scene investigator?

As a CSI, you can earn an average salary of around $100K per year. This average salary is up quite a bit over the past year. Before 2020, the average salary was around $82K.

How much you make will also be determined by who you work for. For example, if you work for a federal government agency, such as the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Department of Labor, you can expect to earn closer to $130K per year.

Your location will also play a huge factor in how much you earn. For example, crime scene investigators in Washington D.C. earn more than any other location. Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York City also offer higher than average salaries.

The position you take will also help to determine your salary. For example, as a criminal investigator, you will earn the highest salary. However, you may start as a fraud investigator at a little more than $20 per hour. It’s also possible to work as a field investigator or a surveillance investigator. Both pay around $19 per hour.

Do I need a bachelor’s degree to work as a crime scene investigator?

No. However, in many states, it’s preferred that you get a bachelor’s degree. Most employers want to hire those with a bachelor’s degree but may consider someone with an associate degree.

What type of work environment will I deal with as a CSI?

Due to the nature of crime scenes, your work environment will likely vary from one day to another. Therefore, it’s rather unpredictable where you will be called and when.

Crime scene investigators often work long hours, and they won’t work the typical 9-to-5 job. As a result, you might be called to the scene of a crime with very little notice in the middle of the night.

It’s also common to be subjected to challenging conditions. For example, you may need to wear protective gear regularly while working in unsanitary and unsafe areas.

Who do crime scene investigators work for?

Most commonly, you will work for law enforcement agencies on the local or federal level. However, crime scene investigators may also be hired by non-governmental laboratories or private investigation firms.

Is this a growing career field?

Yes, crime scene investigators are in high demand, and that demand isn’t expected to end. The field for forensic science technicians is expected to grow by about 14% over the next ten years. So even criminal investigators and detectives are expected to see some growth.

What type of skills are important for crime scene investigators?

It’s important to have great critical thinking skills and have great attention to detail. Crime scene investigators should be able to remain focused in difficult environments. They should also have excellent problem-solving skills.

Still Thinking of Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator?

If you want to become a crime scene investigator, it’s important to look into the different paths for this career. Some will find it easier to become a police officer first or serve in the military. Others may prefer the private route with on-the-job training, schooling, and certificate programs.

No matter the path you take, becoming a crime scene investigator can be a rewarding career. It’s a high-paying option with plenty of opportunities for advancement.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.