Crime Scene Investigator Jobs and Careers
Numerous television series have done much to popularise the role of the Crime Scene Investigator. The personnel arrive at the scene of a homicide and quickly collect evidence, before returning to their laboratories. After making a rapid analysis of the samples collected at the scene, or in the mortuary, the murder investigation is led to a clear and rapid conclusion, usually led by the deductive efforts of the scientists themselves. Viewers can only imagine that the job satisfaction in such a role must be immense, given the astonishing crime clear-up rate and the high profile role of the scientists in the investigation.
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Realities of the Job
A Crime Scene Investigator is employed to collect, identify, classify, and analyse physical evidence related to criminal investigation. These people are usually civilians working with the police, although occasionally they are uniformed or plain clothes officers. They are not solely involved with homicide, but with crimes varying from burglary and home invasions to vehicle crime and armed robberies through to more serious assaults and rape.
The Investigators are amongst the first people to arrive at the crime scene, so that they can locate, collect and record forensic evidence. Sometimes they need to visit mortuaries, when forensic evidence is located on bodies. Their later analysis of the evidence, which may range from finger prints to minute particles or DNA evidence, together with photographs of the scene, can assist in the conviction of offenders. The Investigators may involve the services of specialist scientists in conducting these analyses. Sometimes, they may need to interview victims of crime.
There is a great deal of record-keeping in this role. After visiting a crime scene, written records and diagrams must be produced and maintained, so that there is no doubt as to exactly where evidence was situated when found. The reports are usually handed to the law enforcement agency in charge of the crime. Later, the investigators may need to testify in course as to their findings and how they processed the evidence.
Around 70% of an Investigators' day is taken up with crime scene work, packing and moving evidence, attending and photographing autopsies, and liaising with law enforcement officers. The rest of the time is spent conducting paperwork, testifying in court, maintaining laboratories and equipment, and continuing academic teaching work. Much work involves computerised databases, as the Investigators must verify the accuracy of data they are producing and researching.
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Hours and Conditions
The good news is that most Crime Scene Investigators work regular office hours. However, given the nature of criminal investigations, they are usually on call at other times of the day or night and have to work regular overnight shifts. Shifts include weekends and public holidays, as calls to crime scenes come in 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
It is only possible to do this job effectively if they are physically fit and in good health. This is not only due to the erratic hours, but due to the need to access awkward locations to collect evidence. They need to squat, stoop down and kneel for long periods of time. At other times, they need to carry awkward or heavy objects, or climb or stretch to reach and collect evidence. Additionally, their work is frequently conducted both inside and outdoors, no matter what the weather. Therefore conditions can be unpleasant or even dangerous. Locations can be long distances from the workplace too.
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Type of Person
Crime Scene Investigators must be patient and methodical. They have to pay close attention to detail in even the most adverse conditions, taking time and care even when under pressure. As well as being able to interact with law enforcement officers, sometimes resisting demands for faster progress, they need to work sensitively with crime victims, who may be traumatised. These interviewing and listening abilities need to be matched by the ability to present evidence clearly in court before many people. Emotional stability is important, as there are times when attending crime scenes can be distressing.
Job requirements vary from one area to another. Some crime laboratory positions require a 4-year science degree in a Chemistry or Biology subject. Generally, a University degree with criminal investigation courses is expected, along with further short courses in specialist areas. Numerous educational establishments are offering Science degrees with Crime Scene Investigation components now, due to the rising interest in this area. Technicians need less formal education. Most agencies employ civilians in these roles, although a handful require staff to be sworn police officers first.
Some online courses are available. This can be a quicker, easier way to gain a degree or other qualification in a relevant subject area, but do check that the program offered is with a respected organisation. It is worth making enquiries with agencies in your own geographical area to learn about the minimum qualifications required.
In all instances, you should undertake as much research and reading into the subject area as possible. Competition for Crime Scene Investigator jobs is strong and you need to gain every advantage possible. Hiring is highly influenced by understanding of police investigative procedure as much as formal qualifications - an understanding of search and seizure procedures as well as the scope of the role in the prosecution process is critical to the job. Policy and practice is as important as science, and these vary from state to state, according to the laws within that jurisdiction. Crime Scene Investigators usually need to be eligible to carry a weapon and hold a valid drivers' licence too.
Job Sites for Crime Scene Investigator Jobs
This site provides information on all aspects of Crime Scene investigation and has an employment section for US jobs www.crime-scene-investigator.net/
LGC is an international leader in laboratory services and offers vacancies at all levels in the UK and abroad www.lgcgroup.com/careers/vacancies-at-lgc/uk-vacancies/