CSI Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Are you considering a career in crime scene investigation? Get real job descriptions and career and education requirements to see if a career in CSI is right for you.
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Careers in Crime Scene Investigation

Advancing technologies in forensic science, along with an increased profile due to popularized television dramas, has increased the role of crime scene investigations and forensic science in the criminal justice system. Learn about a career as a forensic science technician, police detective, fire investigator or private investigator.

Forensic Science Technicians Police Detectives Fire Investigators Private Investigators
Career Overview Examines crime scenes; analyzes evidence in laboratories Investigates crimes scenes; pursues suspects Determines origins of fires; reconstructs crime scenes in arson investigations Investigates staged accidents and frauds; conducts surveillance
Education Requirements Associate's degree or bachelor's degree High school diploma up to a bachelor's degree High school diploma up to a bachelor's degree High school diploma up to bachelor's degree
Program Length 2-4 years 0-4 years 0-4 years 0-4 years
Additional Training Police academy training required for some positions; on-the-job training Police academy training Police or fire academy training; on-the-job training On-the-job training
Certification and Licensure N/A State law enforcement license Several professional certifications available (required for some jobs and advantageous for other positions); may need investigation license for employment with private companies Professional certifications available (voluntary); state law enforcement license required for many positions
Experience0-3 years 5-10 years 0-5 years0-5 years
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 Much-faster-than-average 27% growth; 3,800 additional jobs* 1% decline in growth; 1,400 fewer jobs* Average 5% growth; 700 additional jobs* Average 5% growth; 1,800 additional jobs*
Mean Salary (2014) Roughly $58,610* Roughly $80,540* Roughly $58,980* Roughly $52,880*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians collect evidence from crime scenes, preserving the scene and transferring evidence to crime laboratories. They utilize laboratory equipment and computer databases to investigate firearm ballistics, analyze DNA and check fingerprints. Most forensic science technicians work for police departments, crime labs, morgues or coroner's offices.

Technological advances and public awareness have combined to provide job growth for forensic science technicians. In addition to collecting and analyzing evidence, these professionals play a crucial role in trial testimony, presenting evidence and assisting in criminal prosecution.

Requirements

Forensic science technicians need to be extremely detail oriented and possess critical thinking skills. An associate's degree or bachelor's degree is required for most positions, and a bachelor's is necessary for crime lab employment. Major options include forensic science, chemistry, biochemistry and related natural science subjects. Rural areas may train applicants with a high school diploma. According to the Occupational Information Network (ONET), 42% of surveyed professionals earned a bachelor's degree, while 28% had an associate's degree.

Here are some real job listings for forensic science careers found online from November 2012:

  • A Colorado state investigative agency sought a latent print examiner to identify and examine physical evidence and provide court testimony. A bachelor's degree in biology, biochemistry, molecular biology or forensic science was required along with one year of full-time professional experience.
  • A Florida law enforcement agency was looking for a forensic technologist to examine firearms, trace evidence, impression evidence and latent prints. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in physical, biological or forensic science. Professional experience could substitute for 4-year degree on a year for year basis.
  • An Illinois police department advertised for a forensic science administrator to manage forensic scientists throughout the state. Candidates were required to have a bachelor's degree in natural or forensic science with three years of professional experience working as an advanced caseworker. However, a master's degree was preferred.

Standing Out

While a bachelor's degree is required for many positions in forensic science, many professionals choose, or are required, to obtain police officer academy training as well. Sworn police officers may find advantages applying for certain agency positions. You could also gain an edge by obtaining an advanced degree or graduate certificate. Master's degree programs allow prospective professionals to gain specialized experience in areas such as toxicology, chemistry or digital forensics.

Police Detectives

Police detectives collect evidence at crime scenes. They conduct interviews with witnesses and suspects, and they observe, pursue and arrest suspects for criminal prosecution. In addition to employment with local law enforcement agencies, detectives may find work with state or federal investigations agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the U.S. Secret Service.

This career presents a high rate of injury. The work schedule is typically characterized by staggered shifts, and overtime work is common. Due to budgetary restraints at the local, state and federal levels, these professionals may see limited job growth over the coming years. While experienced police detectives, particularly those employed by federal agencies, earn above-average income, lower salaries and high turnover rates are common for local police department positions.

Requirements

Almost exclusively, police detectives are promoted through an advancement protocol within a law enforcement agency. You will typically need to complete police officer/peace officer academy training and pass background and drug screens, as well as physical examinations. Promotion to detective generally requires the successful completion of a written examination. Many professionals also choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field and complete continuing education training to augment professional experience. If you want to work for the federal government, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree.

Although many police detective positions are applied for internally, some specialized agencies recruit qualified applicants through classified job listings. Here are a few online job postings for police detectives from November 2012:

  • A large Texas university advertised for a certified university police detective to investigate cases related to financial fraud and public corruption crimes. An associate's degree or some college background was required in addition to at least ten years of professional experience.
  • A federal government agency sought a detective to perform criminal investigations and law enforcement within a network of health care facilities and administrative departments.
  • A Cleveland health care network looked for a detective to be responsible for criminal investigations. Ohio peace officer training was required in addition to five years of internal experience as a patrolman or three years of police officer work. An associate's degree was preferred.

Standing Out

As previously stated, promotion to detective involves advancement through the ranks of patrol officer positions. Performance is also an essential element of advancement. Continued education and bilingual abilities may set applicants apart for many positions. Although a bachelor's degree is not required for many local positions, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice may prepare you for careers with state or federal investigative agencies.

Fire Investigators

Fire investigators collect evidence at the scene of a fire to reconstruct the criminal elements of arson and determine the origins of a fire. They are often asked to testify in criminal trials or civil law proceedings. According to BLS 2014 data, 79% of fire investigators were employed by local government agencies, such as police departments or local fire departments. Some professionals find employment with federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Although the need for fire investigators is spurred by the growth of American cities, safer buildings and fire protection practices, budgetary restrictions may somewhat inhibit employment growth for these professionals.

Requirements

Basic requirements for fire investigators may include a high school diploma and academy training. Some positions require a 2-year or a 4-year degree with a specialized background in fire science, prevention and criminal investigations. Professional certification and state licensure may be required for some positions.

Here are some real online job posting summaries for fire investigators from November 2012:

  • An Indiana town posted a job ad for a deputy fire marshal with fire inspector or fire investigator certification. A high school diploma was required.
  • A Texas local fire department sought an investigator to determine the circumstances of fires. In addition to investigating arson crimes, the investigator might also participate in insurance fraud and murder investigations. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field plus one year of criminal justice experience were required. Professional experience may substitute for education on a year for year basis. A background in arson investigation was preferred.
  • A Nevada fire department was looking for a fire investigator. The position was open to department employees. Two years of military or public contact experience could qualify one for this job. An associate's degree in related field with one year of experience or a bachelor's degree in related field also meet eligibility requirements.

Standing Out

According to ONET, 47% of surveyed fire inspectors had some college education and 27% of professionals earned an associate's degree. A wide variety of certifications are available to provide a competitive advantage for positions that don't strictly require professional credentials. These certifications are issued by agencies like the International Association of Arson Investigators, which issues the Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) credential. Other certifying organizations include the National Association of Fire Investigators and the National Fire Prevention Association.

Private Investigators

Private investigation is a broad industry that involves a wide range of tasks, including collecting evidence, conducting background checks, searching computers, conducting surveillance and investigating insurance fraud. Professionals may be self-employed, but you could also find work through a private agency, business or organization, such as an insurance carrier.

Fast-as-average job growth is expected for private investigators, based on BLS 2014-2024 projections. Much of this may be attributed to the proliferation of cyber crimes, requiring professionals with computer and network security training. Fraud examiners, adjusters and investigators for insurance claims, however, should see below-average growth over the coming years, according to BLS projections.

Requirements

Licensure requirements for private investigators vary by state. Many positions require professional experience, including police officer or criminal justice experience. In addition to procedural training, private investigators may train in specific areas of investigation, including white collar crime or accounting fraud, computer crime, loss prevention or insurance fraud.

Here are some job ad summaries for private detectives found through online listings from November 2012:

  • A Dallas security firm advertised for a private investigator intern. Successful candidates would attend private investigator basic training. Individuals with military backgrounds were desired.
  • A Florida health care systems contractor looked for a senior investigator to inspect fraud and abuse cases in compliance with its corporate investigations department. A bachelor's degree and five years of relevant experience were required. Work experience in public law enforcement and white collar crime investigations was preferred. Accredited Health Care Fraud Examiner (AHFI) or Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) certification was preferred.
  • An investigations agency in Georgia sought a licensed part-time private investigator for surveillance. Two years of experience in insurance surveillance were preferred.

Standing Out

While requirements vary for private investigators, applicants with public law enforcement experience may have an advantage. Professional certification may also be a benefit. The American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) offers a variety of specialized certifications, including the Professional Certified Investigator (PCI) credential. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners issues the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential.

With job growth centered around the criminal enterprise of hacking, you may also wish to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in a field such as cyber security. A growing number of professional organizations offer membership and certification in computer and network security.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Strayer University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
      • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Computer Security and Forensics Concentration
      • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Admin Concentration
      • B.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
      • B.S. in Information Systems: Cyber Security Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Cyber Security Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Crime Mapping and Data Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MS in Cybersecurity Management
      • MSCJ: Leadership & Executive Management
      • MSCJ: Corrections
      • MSCJ: Global Issues in Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
      • BS in Corrections
      • Bachelor: Auditing-Forensic Accountancy
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
      • BS in Cybersecurity
      • BSCJ: Forensic Psychology
    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
      • Associate: Fire Science
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
      • MS-Criminal Justice
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement and Corrections Administration
    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - International Business
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
      • Master of Arts in Government - National Security Affairs
      • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
      • Master of Public Administration - Emergency Management and Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Corrections
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Law and National Security
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Capella University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD: Criminal Justice
      • DEM - Emergency Management
    Master's
      • MS in Digital Forensics
      • Master: Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MBA in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Public Safety Administration concentration
      • MS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting
      • MS in Cyber Security
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
    Bachelor's
      • BS Criminal Justice - Corrections
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS - Criminal Justice with Intelligence & Crime Analysis
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS - Criminal Justice with Federal Law Enforcement
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Criminal Justice
      • B.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • A.S. Criminal Justice
      • A.S. General Studies - Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    10. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
      • Bachelor of Information Technology - Digital Investigation
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Featured Schools

Strayer University

  • M.S. in Information Systems: Computer Forensics Management
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Computer Security and Forensics Concentration
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Admin Concentration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
  • MS-Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - International Business

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Arts in Government - National Security Affairs
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Capella University

  • PhD: Criminal Justice
  • MS in Digital Forensics
  • Bachelor: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MBA in Criminal Justice
  • BS Criminal Justice - Corrections

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • MS - Criminal Justice with Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Certificate - Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • A.S. Criminal Justice
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?