Crime scene investigators may work in the field, collecting and preserving physical evidence at crime scenes. Others work in laboratories, analyzing findings and presenting their results. Individuals with a high school diploma, associate degree, or technical certification can find employment as crime scene investigators. However, baccalaureate programs, including campus-based and online crime scene investigation degrees, provide comprehensive training in natural sciences, forensic technology, and criminal justice and often lead to broader career options.
Depending on their specialization and employer, crime scene investigators may hold other professional titles, such as forensic science technician, evidence technician, and criminalist. This guide provides information about entering the field and details the salary outlook for bachelor's degree holders in crime scene investigation.
Crime scene investigators perform specialized tasks that require rigorous training in law, criminal justice, forensics, and technology. These professionals collect and process evidence at crime scenes. They also work in laboratories, running scientific and microscopic tests on evidence and preparing reports for law enforcement officials and the court system.
After earning forensic science or crime scene degrees online or on campus, graduates typically have more career opportunities and higher earning potential. In previous decades, crime scene investigators often began their careers as police officers, but the criminal justice system is employing an increasing number of civilian specialists with college-level training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for forensic science technicians to increase 17% between 2016 and 2026, a rate much higher than the national average.
Salary potential and opportunities for career advancement vary significantly based on the professional's industry and location. Federal agencies, such as the FBI, provide some of the highest-paying opportunities for crime scene investigators. Professionals in the field can also earn high salaries in state and local governments and large urban law enforcement departments. As government agencies continue to outsource work, many crime scene investigators find employment with private companies, in medical and diagnostic laboratories.
A crime scene investigation degree prepares learners for a variety of careers. Graduates can also pursue specialized roles in forensic psychology, forensic engineering, and forensic odontology, which require advanced training, certification, and at least a master's degree.
Major employers of crime scene investigators include federal and state government agencies, forensic crime laboratories, law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, and private investigative services. All types of organizations are increasingly seeking applicants with at least a bachelor's degree.
Undergraduate programs in criminal justice fields typically include coursework and experiential learning opportunities in crime scene analysis, forensic science, and relevant technological applications. This section describes what to expect from a bachelor's program in crime scene investigation and common careers for graduates.
Colleges and universities offer many options for students pursuing baccalaureate-level crime scene degrees online. Some programs focus exclusively on forensic science, while others offer concentrations in crime scene analysis, forensic analysis, and crime scene investigation. Some students major in biology, chemistry, or physics and pursue a minor in criminal investigation and forensic technology.
Learners planning to enter the field need a background in criminal justice, the court system, and the law. The best programs help students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Courses in computer science, statistical analysis, and research methods are also useful for criminal justice professionals.
Crime scene investigators need to have a meticulous attention to detail and must be able to maintain their composure in difficult situations. These professionals must carefully collect and preserve evidence, including ballistics, fingerprints, and DNA samples from hair and blood splatter. These specialists need excellent oral and written communication skills to deliver their findings to law enforcement and testify in court.
To learn about criminal investigative procedures and crime scene analysis, students interested in law enforcement careers can seek out internships with police departments and government agencies. Aspiring forensic scientists should pursue field placements and courses that include laboratory work and the application of forensic technology to analyze physical evidence.
Graduates with an online crime scene investigation degree often pursue graduate studies in areas such as forensic pathology, toxicology, and digital forensics. Some law enforcement employers and many states require job candidates to have completed post-baccalaureate training programs or hold professional certifications, such as the crime scene investigator, crime scene analyst, evidence technician, and forensic investigator credentials.
An online crime scene investigation degree qualifies graduates for employment with local, state, and federal government agencies and with private companies. Most law enforcement agencies, coroners' and medical examiners' offices, and crime laboratories require job applicants to have completed a bachelor's program that included extensive training in forensic science and technology and in crime scene analysis.
The section below describes professional settings for crime scene investigators and forensic science technicians, along with job descriptions and salary information.
Annual Median Salary: $58,230
These technicians work in laboratories, conducting scientific and microscopic analysis on physical evidence collected at crime scenes. They report their findings to police officers and attorneys, and they often testify in court proceedings.
Annual Median Salary: $53,910
These forensic specialists perform genetic and chemical tests on tissue samples provided by crime scene investigators. Analysts create DNA profiles of crime victims and suspects.
Annual Median Salary: $52,330
These laboratory scientists collect and perform tests on body fluids and tissues, using technological applications and computerized instruments. They present results to patients, physicians, and law enforcement personnel.
Annual Median Salary: $50,090
Private detectives and investigators work for individuals and firms to uncover personal, legal, and financial information. They conduct surveillance, gather physical and digital evidence, and help clients prepare for civil and criminal cases.
Annual Median Salary: $45,816
Crime scene investigators work with police officers and detectives to secure and examine crime scenes. They gather, document, and preserve physical evidence, including fingerprints, body fluids and tissue, and weapons.
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