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Crime Scene Investigator

colleges offer programs related to this career near Ashburn, VA

Career Overview

Before DNA and computers, you either needed hard evidence or a confession in order to prove someone committed a crime-and those didn't come easy. Fortunately, we now have crime scene investigators, who use the latest technologies to analyze evidence from a crime scene to help solve the case.Crime scene investigators, sometimes called criminalists or forensic science technicians, go to crime scenes looking for fingerprints, DNA samples, and anything else that might point to a potential suspect. They must be sure to avoid tampering with the crime scene in any way, or they could risk contaminating the evidence. Crime scene investigators are also responsible for photographing the scene, cataloging the evidence, and writing reports based on their observations. Once they have all the evidence they can find, they take everything back to the lab to be analyzed. Using various tools and methods to analyze the evidence, they search for anything that might give the detectives a lead or incriminate a suspect. In most cases, they find fingerprints or other DNA evidence that will lead them to a potential suspect.Crime scene investigators are an absolutely vital part of a criminal investigation, often times producing evidence that detectives alone would not be able to obtain. Crime scene investigators must follow every lead they discover, no matter how small or unimportant it may seem. The smallest detail could produce a key piece of evidence, and it might even be enough to make an arrest or prove someone's innocence. When it comes down to it, the evidence in a case is just as important as the person who discovers it, and that person could be you.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$57,850
15,070
16.8 %
Virginia
$68,120
430
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science, Natural Science, Biology, or related fields

To become a crime scene investigator, you'll need to start by earning your bachelor's degree. You can major in forensic science or natural science, but you must definitely take courses in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Proper training is also a very important part of getting a job, and many law enforcement agencies prefer applicants with prior experience. But don't worry if you don't have any prior experience. Most employers will start out as an assistant to a more experienced investigator, so you can learn the ropes on the job.An extra step you could take in your career is becoming a sworn police officer, like many crime scene investigators are. It isn't required to become one, but many crime scene investigators are.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Communication Skills
Quantitative Abilities
Problem Solving Skills
Detail Oriented

Career Opportunities

If you're thinking of becoming crime scene investigator, it's important to consider where you wish to work and what kind of work you actually want to do. Crime scene investigators have a lot of responsibilities, so some people choose to specialize in a specific area and stick with that.

Crime Laboratory Analysts

For crime scene investigators, their time is split between visiting crime scenes and working in the lab. For those of you who don't like the idea of visiting crime scenes, you may choose to spend your time in the lab, running tests and analyzing evidence. Crime laboratory analysts look at the evidence gathered from the crime scene and tie them to suspects in the case.

Digital Forensics Analysts

There's a very specific path for technologically-inclined people who also want to work in criminal justice. Digital forensics analysts work mostly with computer-based crimes, like fraud, identity theft, or scams. They might also be called on in other cases where evidence may be found in a digital landscape.

Work Environment

The life of a crime scene investigator is a very stressful, demanding one. The hours are long, and often require you to work nights, weekends, and sometimes even holidays. Due to the nature of crimes, you're expected to always be on call and able to come into work at a moment's notice. Though most of your time will be spent in a lab analyzing the data from the crime scene, you will have to visit the actual crime scene to collect said data. The job can be disturbing and grotesque, so if you are sensitive to gruesome, gory image, then this might not be the right fit for you.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013