Crime Scene Investigation Topics

Guide to a Career in Crime Scene Investigation

What is Crime Scene Investigation?

Crime scene investigation is one of the most challenging fields in today's job market. Crime scene investigators are often the first people on the scene after a crime has occurred. Crime scene investigation professionals are given the responsibility of securing the crime scene and collecting information that can be crucial to criminal convictions.

It is possible for those interested in this profession to obtain a degree in Crime Scene Investigation through traditional, online, and distance education college degree programs. The availability of online and distance learning programs in the field of Crime Scene Investigation has seen a significant growth in recent history. The expansion of the industry of online and distance learning degree programs in Crime Scene Investigation has made it possible for students in all situations to obtain their desired college degree from an accredited college or university while continuing to maintain their professional lives at work and their personal lives at home.

Today's student is much different from the student of several years ago. By enrolling in an online or distance learning college degree program, single parents and busy professionals with current jobs have the flexibility of attending classes from home and while traveling.

Online and distance learning college degree programs in Crime Scene Investigation are designed to provide enrolled students with a solid general background of knowledge the workings of the American justice system, law enforcement, and the technological advancements being made in the field of investigation.

Improved technology and online degree programs have helped to decrease the amount of time it can take for a student to earn a college degree. Depending upon the discipline, internships and apprenticeships may be a required part of the degree program. These internship and apprenticeship positions offer real world exposure to the field of crime scene investigation and give students an idea of the skills necessary to be successful crime scene investigators.

Career Education in Crime Scene Investigation

Undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs

Students who wish to study Crime Scene Investigation or a related area of criminal justice or law enforcement may need to earn a degree at the Associate, Bachelor, or Master's level. Students may also need to earn state licensure or specialized certification for a particular concentration in their field. Before beginning a Crime Scene Investigation or a related degree program, students should be clear about their personal career goals. Knowing your career goals will help tremendously as you figure out what level of degree, licensure or certification you will need to obtain in order to begin a successful professional career in your field.

Degree program coursework

Students enrolled in an online or distance learning college degree program in Crime Scene Investigation will learn how to locate, preserve, develop, collect and present evidence found in crime scenes. The latest methods in crime scene surveying will also be covered.

The coursework of a college degree program in Crime Scene Investigation may include courses such as:

Introduction to Criminal Justice
Criminal Law
Criminal Investigation
Crime Scene Safety
All of these courses delve into subjects that require a very focused mindset and the ability to separate emotional reactions from what professional crime scene investigators face every day on the job. Crime scene professionals need to be ready to handle different situations on a daily basis.

Certificate Programs

Certificates in Crime Scene Investigation are also quite popular for those seeking entry- level experience in the criminal justice field. There are many opportunities to complete certificate requirements online. Schools such as Kaplan University offer concentrations in learning the boundaries of a crime scene and in learning the key symbols to look for when investigating. Certificate recipients will also learn the correct way to stakeout a scene using the evidence from fingerprint examinations and other material that can be helpful to other investigators and prosecutors. Holders of these certificates often find themselves employed in entry-level positions at police departments or in forensic laboratories. It is common for investigative professionals to receive certification from the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI) or other professional organization as a way to prove accomplishment in the field. The Certified Legal Investigator certificate is awarded by NALI to licensed investigators who specialize in criminal defense and negligence cases. This particular certification is awarded to investigators who have proven eligibility by achieving standards of work experience, education, and training. To be eligible for the certification these investigators must also pass examinations designed and given by NALI.

Education on the job

Ongoing training is a necessity in this field and often workplaces offer employees the opportunity to continue their education. The Las Vegas Police Department, for example, provides entry-level internships such as Crime Scene Investigators I. Crime scene investigators at this level collect evidence at crime scenes and bring it for analysis at laboratories. They are able to ask for assistance from superiors in their department. Those who work at the level of Crime Scene Analyst II have the full responsibility for the surveying of the crime scene and are not expected to rely on the expertise of others to complete his or her work.

The accumulated information passed down the through the ranks of any department of criminal investigation is meant to work as a continual chain of information. This chain of information should strengthen everyone in the department and keep everyone abreast of new information through close cooperation and collaboration during investigation.

The opportunity for younger recruits to learn from seasoned professionals is one of the advantages of the law enforcement field. The reverse is also true: new employees can share their knowledge of new technologies and methods, giving veterans new perspectives on old ideas. These ideas can be exchanged during online courses and interactive discussion between law enforcement professionals and civilians. It is important that the law enforcement community works to make use of new technologies.

What Can You Do with a University Degree in Crime Scene?

Career options for aspiring crime lab assistants, crime scene technicians, medical examiners, and more

Though the media may glamorize the image of a crime scene professional, the reality is that the work is grueling and time consuming. The compensation varies depending on location and the cost of living. However, like in the majority of public service positions, the motivation for this job involves a dedication to solve crime and to protect the public. The motivation is not to earn a large salary. These types of professions are typically male-dominated. As opportunities for women have increased and societal stereotypes change, females are beginning to make greater developments in the profession.

There are also many teaching opportunities for individuals considering a career in this industry. Security and crime prevention are essential components to a well functioning community and there is no limit to the amount of students expressing interest in pursuing such a career though traditional, online, and distance learning college degree programs. As criminals become more adept at eluding authority, the methods to fight crime will continue to grow in complexity. Graduates of a Crime Scene Investigation degree program will have direct exposure to cutting edge advancements in investigative technology.

A successful crime scene investigator must have a strong understanding of forensic science. This specified discipline plays a large role in the daily life of a crime scene professional. Forensic science is defined as the set of knowledge that comes from applying science to the law.

The professional positions most commonly held by graduates of a Crime Scene Investigation college degree program include but are not limited to:

Crime Scene Technician
Crime Scene Photographer
Fingerprint Classification Specialist
Crime Lab Assistant
Medical Examiner and Investigator
Latent Print Examiner/Trainee
Fire Inspector/Investigator
Forensic Science Specialist
Property and Evidence Personnel
The characteristics that potential crime scene professionals should posses include:

Keen observational skills and an eye for the unexpected
Strong physical conditioning
The mentality to cope with very unpleasant and gruesome situations
A strong interest in the sciences
The ability to work independently and also as part of a team
Direct and clear ability to communicate with co-workers
Strong technical skills
Receptivity to constantly learning new skills and technologies
The following list contains brief descriptions of some related jobs held by graduates of Investigation college degree programs:

Legal investigators. Legal investigators usually work for law firms or private practice lawyers. They specialize in legal cases involving the court system, preparing criminal courtroom defenses, finding and collecting witnesses, serving legal paperwork and documents, interviewing witnesses and police officers involved with the case, and collecting and assessing evidence. Legal investigators may be required to testify in the court and to develop reports to be given during trial.
Corporate investigators. Corporate investigators conduct investigations for corporations. During an internal investigation, corporate investigators may investigate possible drug use in the organization, the suspected abuse of corporate accounts, or suspected theft in the workplace. During an external investigation, corporate investigators may investigate, uncover, and prevent the execution of criminal planning that is originating from sources outside of the corporation itself.
Financial investigators. Financial investigators are often also Certified Public Accountants. Frequently, part of the job of a financial investigator is to research and develop financial profiles of people or corporations who may potentially become involved with financial dealings of considerable size. Financial investigators also work to conclude theft or fraud cases, helping to gather assets to cover damage or loss.
Loss prevention officers. Store detectives, also called loss prevention agents work in hotels or stores, apprehending people who try to damage property or to steal items. Part of the job a store detective might be to help in the opening and closing of the retail store, doing a check and assessment of stock rooms, dressing rooms, and restrooms. Store detective may have to attend court hearings for those they apprehend for attempted theft or vandalism and may even have to testify. Part of the job of a store detective is also to maintain order and control in the retail store or hotel in which he or she works.

Education and training

Private investigator and private detective jobs are often good second jobs for former law enforcement officers and military investigators because private investigators and private detectives are frequently able to retire in just 20 years. Some investigators, however, come from specific professional backgrounds such as insurance, law, and accounting, bringing their knowledge to specified fields of investigation. Still some investigators begin their investigative careers immediately following graduation from a college degree program. These investigators usually hold a Bachelor degree in Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, Crime Scene Investigation, or a closely related field.

The best candidates for successful careers as an investigator possess specific characteristics such as determinations and assertiveness. Investigators should not back down in confrontational situations and should be able to communicate effectively with many types of people. It is helpful, too, for investigators to be able to interview and interrogate effectively, controlling the situation in order to get as much information as possible. Investigators are often called upon to give presentations or to testify in the courtroom. For this reason, the best investigators will have good public speaking, organization, and articulation skills.

Those who are thinking about pursuing a career as an investigator should consider getting trained in criminal justice and law enforcement. Many specialized investigators, such as corporate investigators, have a Bachelor or Master's degree in business, business administration, law, or accounting. When they are hired as a corporate investigator, they might undergo a background check and be required by their employing company to complete additional training in topic such as business practices, management, and finance.

Work environment

Work environments can vary greatly depending on the geographical area, the climate, and the challenges that go along with investigating the scene. Students must also be trained in the proper use of cameras to document the crime scene. The variety of skills used by crime scene investigators is one of the most attractive features of this growing profession.

It is not uncommon for investigators to work hours outside of a regular forty-hour workweek. Investigators must frequently work night, weekend, early morning, and holiday hours.

Most investigators and detectives will spend some time each day both in and outside of the office. Outside of the office, investigators may conduct surveillance activities and interviews, and inside the office they may do computer searches, make phone calls, and maintain paperwork. Investigators most often work by themselves but they may sometimes work with a small team during surveillance or when tracking a suspect.

The job of an investigator can at times be stressful or even dangerous, especially on those occasions when the job involves confrontation with suspects or with upset clients. In some particularly potentially dangerous situations, investigators must be armed. Investigators who use handguns must have appropriate licensure. Most of the time, though, carrying a weapon is unnecessary for an investigator.

Job Duties

As forensics play such a large role in crime scene investigation, a snapshot of what daily life entails for a forensics professional would be helpful to students considering such a career. Forensics professionals must:

Examine, test, and analyze tissue samples, chemical substances, physical materials, and ballistics evidence using recording, measuring, and testing equipment
Interpret laboratory findings and test results to classify substances materials and other evidence collected at the crime scene collect and preserve criminal evidence found at the crime scene
Collect evidence and use it to solve cases in a responsible manner
Confer with ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, documents, electronic, medical, chemical, or metallurgical experts to interpret evidence
Reconstruct crime scenes to determine relationships among pieces of evidence
Prepare reports or presentations of findings and investigate methods or laboratory techniques
Testify as a witness in trials or hearings
Salary Information for Careers in Crime Scene Investigation

According to survey posted on, in the year 2000, 6,400 people were employed in the forensics and investigational field. They worked primarily for state and local governments.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2002 the average annual salary of private detectives and investigators was $29,300. Salaries ranged between less than $17,290 and more than $57,370.

Job Outlook

The job competition in the investigation field is high because the field is an attractive one to many recently graduated students as well as to working professionals. The most employment opportunities will be in entry-level positions or part-time positions with detective agencies, retail stores, or hotels. Most large business chain retail stores hire store detectives on a rather regular basis.

The employment rate for private investigators and private detectives is expected to grow faster than they average employment growth rate over the next seven years. Many employment opportunities will be created by retirement and career changes of those already working in the field.

The specialized work of private detectives and investigators will be increasingly in demand due to fear of criminal activity and theft and the need to protect the confidentiality of information and property. Attorneys will need to hire investigators to help them with criminal defense cases and with civil litigation. Investigators will be needed by corporations and financial outfits to conduct internal and external investigations of situations involving financial damage and loss.

Private Contractors, various consulting firms, and government organizations such as the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, INS, FBI, CIA, and NSA, employ crime scene professionals in growing numbers.

Those that have successful careers in the field of crime scene investigation are unique individuals whose lives are impacted on a daily basis because of the graphic nature of the work. Being able to balance the rigorous demands and emotional toll of a crime scene investigation position is difficult, but there is great reward in helping to solve a case. Investigators have the knowledge that they make an impact on our justice system everyday.

Certification and Licensure

Most investigative employers do not have official requirements for the education and training of their employees, though most private investigators have previous job experience in other fields and often have college degrees. Most often, those who pursue a career as a private investigator have an occupational background in law enforcement, government jobs, the military, or working for insurance companies or private security companies.

Most states require that investigators have appropriate licensure. The requirements for licensure vary from state to state, though many states require that private investigators and detectives complete a mandatory training program. Some states, including Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota, have no licensing requirements for investigators and detectives. California, however, ensures that investigators meet strict parameters that include passing a background check, passing an examination, and passing an evaluation given by the Federal Department of Justice.