How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator:
The Definitive Guide


Are you the type of person that enjoys watching detective shows or true-crime documentaries?

Do you feel like you could do what the actors do on television?

Maybe even better?

If you’re interested in working with crime scenes and evidence to make sure that the guilty person gets their day in court, then you may have just the right mind to be a Crime Scene Investigator.

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What is a Crime Scene Investigator?

In order to find a criminal, police need evidence.

Where does the evidence come from, you may ask?

Crime Scene Investigators of course.

These are the men and women who painstakingly comb through crime scenes in order to find the smallest of clues, whether that be a fingerprint, a gum wrapper, or blood, the crime scene investigator does it all.

You’ll help collect, analyze, and submit evidence to a crime laboratory.

You’ll also make detailed reports on everything found on the scene, as well as speak to authorities about anything mentioned in the reports.

Duties

On a day to day basis, Crime Scene Investigators may have to perform many of the following:

  • Communicate with law enforcement about crime scenes, protocol, and procedures
  • Make sure all materials are available and ready to use
  • Clean and maintain equipment
  • Ensure all procedures are followed according to law
  • Collect weapons-related evidence
  • Handle human bodily fluids such as blood, as well as DNA
  • Package and transport evidence

Salary

The average salary for a crime scene investigator in the United States is around $67,000 a year.

Those that have more education, skills, experience and knowledge of the career will likely make more money.

Where you work also has a major role in how much you make.

If you work for a smaller city, you will likely make less than one with more crime attached.

To make the most out of your career, try and find ways to ensure that you are constantly educating yourself.

This way, you can be on your way to making up to $74,000 a year.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $63,170

$35K
$45K
$63K
$77K
$97K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$48,630
Alaska$72,380
Arizona$61,820
Arkansas$43,470
California$87,200
Colorado$66,560
Connecticut$68,960
Florida$54,490
Georgia$49,990
Hawaii$56,500
Illinois$82,130
Indiana$61,210
Kansas$50,460
Kentucky$49,040
Louisiana$48,950
Maine$57,830
Maryland$68,880
Massachusetts$76,950
Michigan$65,170
Minnesota$62,760
Mississippi$50,180
Missouri$52,190
Montana$64,580
Nebraska$53,960
Nevada$64,070
New Hampshire$68,530
New Jersey$61,640
New Mexico$43,370
New York$68,000
North Carolina$48,150
Ohio$68,910
Oklahoma$55,880
Oregon$67,360
Pennsylvania$51,660
South Carolina$43,530
South Dakota$39,070
Tennessee$52,270
Texas$60,040
Virginia$69,260
Washington$64,690
West Virginia$46,860
Wisconsin$55,120
Wyoming$55,300

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $87,200.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $87,200
Illinois - $82,130
Massachusetts - $76,950
Alaska - $72,380
Virginia - $69,260
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

Step 1Earn Your Bachelor's Degree

In order to become a Crime Scene Investigator, you are going to need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

This degree should be in either biology, chemistry, criminal justice, physics, law or forensic science.

Check out the college that you are interested in to see if they offer a major in forensic science, as this is a new field of study.

The benefits of pursuing a degree in forensic science can lead you toward success in your future.

You’ll be able to focus on areas of the job that you want, rather than studying other things that may come up with majors such as criminal justice or chemistry.

This could give you a leg up in the career opportunity department.

Even if you don’t want to obtain a degree in forensic science, you’ll still be on your way to becoming a wonderful Crime Scene Investigator.

Step 2Become an Intern

Although this is a voluntary experience, it can help in tremendous ways.

You’ll be able to obtain some hands-on experience and learn all about what it takes to be a good Crime Scene Investigator.

Internships should take up to a year, and you can even start while you are still in school!

The thing about internships, though, is that they are highly competitive.

If you are looking to pursue on, you may want to start looking as soon as you enroll in college, this way you can be sure you’ll have a spot.

Some internships will pay you between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.

Step 3Obtain Your Master's

Again, this step is voluntary.

You don’t have to get a Master’s degree, but if you are looking to create a lifelong career as a Crime Scene Investigator, then why not go for the gold?

A Master’s can take around two years to finish.

You can get a Master’s degree in forensic science, science and criminalistics, forensic biology, and even biomedical forensic science.

It may be smart to start working before gaining a Master’s, as the experience will boost your probability to obtain employment once you are doing with your schooling.

Step 4Become Certified

After all of that education, you’ll also need to make sure that you are certified in at least one of the following:

American Board of Criminalistics- This certification is for people who want to focus on drug analysis, fire debris, hairs, fibers, paint, and polymers.

American Board of Forensic Document Examiners- If you’re interested in looking through documents, papers, and other materials, this might be a great place to become certified.

International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners- This certification will give you the ability to examine computers for evidence.

International Association for Property and Evidence- This certification will allow you to handle evidence.

Association of Fire Arm and Tool Mark Examiners- With this certification, you’ll know how to look at guns and tools for evidence.

American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology – With this certification, you can walk away with the knowledge of psychiatry and the brain.

There are so many certifications that come along with this job, ask around at your school or workplace to see what other options are available to you.


Education

Most employers won’t even look at your resume if they don’t see at least a Bachelor’s degree under your education.

The most relevant areas that you are going to want to study for this career are forensic science and crime scene investigations.

Although, it is possible to become a Crime Scene Investigator with another type of degree, such as law, criminology, biology, chemistry and so on.

A Bachelor’s degree can take around four years to complete for full-time students.

In order to get the best available training, you will want to take courses in human anatomy, physics, legal studies, forensics, psychology, criminal justice, chemistry, and investigation.

Having a Bachelor’s degree prepares you for the career that you are looking for, but if you want to become even more educated, you could always earn your Master’s degree.

A Master’s degree in forensic science or a related field can gain you access to even more lucrative jobs within law enforcement.

With both a Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees you can choose to either work independently or with a law enforcement agency.

Another two years will be added to your education if you go for your Master’s degree.

In order to be accepted into a Master’s degree program, you will need to have experience in the work field.

Typically, those that are going for their Master’s degree have had at least one year of Crime Science Investigator training.

An important feature that you will want to be aware of when going for your Master’s is that the program is accredited with the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

This way, you know that you are doing work legally in the state in which you live.

If you know that you have a specialization, or feel that you are more interested in a certain area of crime scene investigation, it’s possible to obtain a specialized Master’s degree.

Some of the areas that are offered include financial crimes, digital crimes, forensic psychology, and forensic chemistry.

Video About The Career


Certification

It is completely voluntary to obtain certifications in this career field; however, it is highly respected in law enforcement agencies.

Even though it’s not necessary to obtain a specialization or certification, there are several available.

For example, you could become a certified Crime Scene Investigator with the International Crime Scene Investigators Association.

If you want to do this, you’ll need at least two years’ experience and already have a job with a law enforcement agency.

You’ll also go through rigorous testing, both physically and in writing, before you can acquire your certification.

The International Association for Identification is the largest forensic association in the world.

If you want to become a part of that club, you can become a certified senior crime scene analyst, certified crime scene reconstructionist, certified crime scene investigator, and certified crime scene investigator through the association.

Another interesting certification that is available for Crime Scene Investigators is from the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute.

This institute offers a Certified Criminal Investigator certification program.

With this certification, you must be able to identify a crime scene, identify evidence, conduct interviews, handle evidence and testify in court.

There are several other factors that can determine whether you’ll be allowed to submit an application.

These factors include whether you have specializations in areas like the history of forensic science, homicide, trials, psychological autopsies and more.

If you are looking for a more specialized certification, you can always look into areas like digital evidence, cybercrime, forensic anthropology, forensic nursing and tons more.

The choices are almost endless when it comes to the type of certification that you can receive as a Crime Scene Investigator.

Each certification duration varies depending on the agency it goes through, so if you are interested, definitely check out the website for the certification you desire.

Certification Example:

crime scene investigator certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 4+ Years

Due to the fact that training programs are done by different agencies, the duration can vary.

All of the certification programs have a serious requirements list, so you will definitely want to take that to heart as well.

For example, The International Association for Identification’s certification can take a year to finish.

The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute requires that interested parties have at least seven years of experience as a Crime Scene Investigator.

It may take some time, but when you are passionate about something it won’t feel that it takes that long.

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Job Outlook

It looks to be that as of August 2018, the job outlook for a Crime Scene Investigator will grow quickly.

Within the next ten years, the career will rise fourteen percent.

This is much faster than many other careers in the same field.

It is predicted that many local and state governments will hire additional Crime Scene Investigators to process ever-growing workloads.

The great thing about this career is that scientific and technological advances will increase the availability of evidence for trials, which means Crime Scene Investigators will be used on more active crime scenes.

The competition for a career like this is expected to be high.

Which means that more education and certifications will help obtain employment.

Employment Growth Projection: 14%

16,700
2018
19,100
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 2,400 jobs.

Crime Scene Investigator: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Crime Scene Investigator?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Having a career as a Crime Scene Investigator looks action-packed and serious on television.

In reality, a Crime Scene Investigator spends much of their time in the lab testing evidence and doing things like cataloging, recording, and forwarding information to different departments.

That being said, those that have worked in this career claim that it is a mundane job, but rather rewarding.

Don’t expect to be running from crime scene to crime scene unless you’re on a movie set, and you may do great in this career.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

The average salary for a Crime Scene Investigator is around $67,000 a year.

The range typically falls between $50,000 and $74,000 a year.

Salary can depend on where you work, how much education, training, and certifications you have, as well as any additional skills you may have obtained.

Those that have more education and training will be on the higher end of the spectrum.

While people who are just starting out in the field may be required to work their way up to a larger paycheck.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

The job growth outlook for Crime Scene Investigators is stellar.

In the next ten years, the career will grow quite quickly, which means more job openings for people who are just getting done with their education.

The growth will occur due to new technological advances in evidence, DNA, and computer science.

This means that more Crime Scene Investigators will be able to work on various crimes that haven’t been deemed important in the past.

People who are looking for a great career to enhance their love for analyzing data and evidence at crime scenes can expect a boost in job opportunities.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 4+ Years

It can take some time to become a Crime Scene Investigator.

For example, if you are going for your Bachelor’s degree, it can take you four years to complete.

Those that want to put in a little more education and gain a Master’s degree can expect to have two more years of schooling.

With education and certifications combined, it can take nearly ten years to become a Certified Crime Scene Investigator.

It’s possible to create many roads with this career, so education pays off in the end.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Just because you watch cop shows on television doesn’t mean you’ve got what it takes to be a Crime Scene Investigator.

In order to do this job, you’ll need some specific skills.

These include:

  • Elite analytical skills- You’ll need the patience to examine even fine details of a crime scene.
  • Communication skills- You will need to be able to record every fact about the evidence you pick up from a crime scene.
  • Problem-solving skills- Most crime scenes are a puzzle, so you’ll need to figure out what you’re looking at and how it pieces together with everything else.
  • Ability to be objective- You’ll need to remain detached from what you see on a day to day basis.
  • Flexibility- Crime doesn’t happen from 9-5, so you’ll need to have some wiggle room in your schedule.
  • Strong stomach- Some crime scenes are brutal, and you must be able to keep it together through all of the scenes you may uncover.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Crime Scene Investigator make?

On average, a Crime Scene Investigator can make around $67,000.

Those that have less education and experience can expect to make around $50,000.

Crime Scene Investigators with Master’s degrees and years of experience can likely make around $74,000 a year.

The range of salary can also depend on the branch of law enforcement, or independent agency that you work for, as well as the area in which you live.

People that live in a hire population will likely have more crime, which means more crime scenes to be investigated.

Q. How to become a Crime Scene Investigator?

First, you’ll need to have a passion for solving crimes and also attention to detail.

Then, you’ll need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in a science, this can be biology, chemistry, forensics, the list goes on.

After that, you will want to become an intern so that you can gain as much experience as possible.

Some of these positions are paid, but not all.

When you get your experience, you’ll need to think about either continuing your education or working with an agency or law enforcement.

Then you can either earn your Master’s degree or start working right away.

Q. How long does it take to become a Crime Scene Investigator?

The answer to this question depends on how much education you want to gain.

Some people want to get a Bachelor’s degree, which can take around four years to finish if you go full time.

Other people like to get as much education as possible and go for their Master’s.

This takes roughly another two years.

You don’t have to have a Master’s to work as a Crime Scene Investigator, but employers find it beneficial.

Q. What does a Crime Scene Investigator do?

As silly as it sounds, a Crime Scene Investigator investigates crimes.

Crime Scene Investigators are the men and women who go through crime scenes, taking photos and evidence in order to understand the story of what happened leading up to the crime.

They also spend a lot of time in the lab.

Crime Scene Investigators can be found cataloging, examining and forwarding evidence.

There is never a dull moment in the work of a Crime Scene Investigator.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Crime Scene Investigator?

Typically, the cost of a four year Bachelor’s degree from a university can be around $35,000.

If you add on a Master’s degree, that can run you another $50,000 depending on which school you choose to go to.

Certifications and specializations can also cost over $1,000 a session.

You don’t have to have a Master’s or any certifications in order to work as a Crime Scene Investigator.


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