While entertainment based on criminal investigations is popular and gives viewers an inside look at the world of crime scene investigation, the depiction isn’t always accurate. Though the career is portrayed as thrilling and glamorous, those considering a career in crime scene investigation should understand the practical role these professionals play in the criminal justice system. Crime scene investigators are full-time law enforcement officers, with some large police agencies hiring civilian employees as evidence technicians.
Crime Scene Investigator: Job Description
Crime scene investigators are tasked with investigating and securing evidence at crime scenes. They collect and document evidence in order to assist prosecutors and other law enforcement professionals in criminal investigations. Crime scene investigators complete tasks such as the following:
- Documenting and collecting physical evidence
- Photographing crime scenes
- Documenting observations of the crime scene
- Preparing crime scene diagrams
- Identifying evidence to collect
- Preparing Criminal Investigation Reports
- Obtaining arrest and search warrants
- Testifying in court
Criminal investigators should have strong critical thinking and analytical skills to be successful. Oversights can be detrimental to prosecuting a case. Some crime scene investigators are sworn police officers, but applicants for civilian crime scene investigator positions should have a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). An undergraduate degree in criminal justice is a valuable credential for those seeking a career in criminal investigation.
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Crime Scene Investigator Responsibilities
The central goal of crime scene investigators is reconstructing a crime scene while providing a basis for the identification and prosecution of suspects. This means that they do two very different types of work, either working on-site at crime scenes or completing administrative work at offices or police stations. For this reason, setting and responsibilities may vary from day to day.
The majority of a criminal investigator’s time is spent away from the crime scene. Investigators prepare written reports, interview witnesses, conduct follow-up investigations and testify in court.
A criminal investigation is a team effort. Criminal investigators work with other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and forensic analysts. Most positions require on-the-job training working with more experienced investigators to learn criminal investigation techniques and equipment. All criminal investigators are supervised during their probationary training period.
Types of Cases
Television and movies often focus on homicide when portraying criminal investigators, but while criminal investigators do gather evidence in instances of homicide, they investigate a wide variety of cases. For example, investigators may be tasked with investigating property crimes as well as crimes against people.
The entertainment industry often combines forensic analysis with criminal investigation in its depiction of the criminal justice system. These two roles have distinct responsibilities: Forensic analysts study evidence collected at the crime scene and submitted to the crime laboratory for analysis. Forensic analysts then submit a scientific report of evidence.
What Your Future as a Crime Scene Investigator Looks Like: Salary and Outlook
While the BLS does not offer salary information specific to crime scene investigators, PayScale reports that these criminal justice professionals earn a median annual salary of $41,394.
Criminal Justice Education
Undergraduate study in criminal justice is an ideal way to prepare for many law enforcement careers. West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree that gives students a comprehensive understanding of the modern criminal justice system. With a curriculum informed by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, this program features an in-depth study of the causes of crime and the relationship between criminal justice and society. Students graduate with theoretical and practical knowledge they can apply in the workplace.