Becoming a Crime Lab Technician: Pros and Cons
Crime lab technicians, also called forensic science technicians, examine evidence found at crime scenes. Learn more about the pros and cons of being a crime lab technician below.
|Becoming a Crime Lab Technician: PROS|
|Salary for crime lab technicians is above the national average (median salary of $55,360 in 2014)*|
|Opportunity to help police officers*|
|A growing awareness of forensic science might spur more job openings*|
|In the lab, work conditions are generally comfortable*|
|Becoming a Crime Lab Technician: CONS|
|Extensive on-the-job training needed*|
|Overtime is common*|
|Since crime doesn't stop, crime lab technicians often have to be on call and report into work at odd hours*|
|Many job openings are dependent upon law enforcement budgets*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Information
As evidence from a crime scene arrives at the laboratory, crime lab technicians begin to prepare the scientific analysis. You'll first classify and identify the type of evidence you receive. You might be looking at ballistics tests, blood spatter patterns or fingerprints. In some cases, you'll consult with an experienced professional or an expert in a specialized area to get an opinion about the evidence. In order to get a clearer picture as to what happened at a crime scene, you may reconstruct certain aspects of what happened in order to recreate it for further proof. Once your work is done, you'll write up detailed reports and give them to your superiors.
In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that crime lab technicians earned $26.61 an hour, which equals to a median income of $55,360 per year for full-time work. The top ten percentile of wage estimates for crime lab technicians was $91,400, while the lowest ten percentile was less than $33,000.
Education and Training
To work in a crime laboratory, a technician generally needs a bachelor's degree. Forensic science is an appropriate major to pursue, and you can also find employment with a chemistry or biology degree. When you're looking for a suitable educational program, you'll want to check with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences for a list of schools with forensic science degree programs.
After you've obtained the necessary education, all crime lab technicians go through a training process. You'll normally start off as an apprentice to an experienced technician. The training process for different techniques used in forensic science can take different training lengths. Analyzing firearms, for example, can take up to three years to learn, while examining DNA can take 6-12 months.
What Do Employers Want?
A professional demeanor is very important to crime lab technician employers. The nature of this work is sensitive. Possessing good moral character and an eye for details allows crime lab technicians to be successful at finding out the truth. Employers made other requests when looking for crime lab technicians below in some job postings from April 2012.
- A county in California was looking for a crime lab technician with two years of crime scene experience and one year of forensic lab experience to manage the lab.
- In Virginia, an opening for a crime lab technician required someone with a bachelor's in biology or chemistry, computer skills and the strong math skills needed to prepare reagents, solvents, standards and controls.
- In Connecticut, an insurance company required an applicant with a bachelor's degree in science or engineering and five years of experience to serve as an expert in one or more areas; possibilities included fire investigations, analytical chemistry, accident reconstruction and computer modeling.
Standing Out as a Crime Lab Technician
Prior to becoming a crime lab technician, you could enter into a police academy. If you acquire training as a police officer, you'll set yourself apart from other crime lab technicians who haven't. This additional level of experience can help you understand how evidence is collected and used. You also can become familiar with the nature of crime scenes. By learning more about the duties a police officer performs, you'll be better equipped when it comes to examining evidence. Finally, it is important that you keep aware of technological and scientific advances in the field of forensic science to remain competitive with your peers.
Alternative Career Paths
If you're interested in working in law enforcement, but you don't want to work in a lab, consider being a patrol officer. You'll be given a specific area to ensure that all laws are being followed. You might be called to a specific place to investigate a disturbance. If necessary, you'll make any arrests or issue warnings. The duty of a patrol officer is to make sure the public is protected. The average salary of patrol officers annually was the same as a crime lab technician's salary - about $56,000 in May 2011 - according to the BLS.
If you like working in a laboratory, but you're not interested in working with law enforcement, you might want to look into being a chemist. The majority of chemists work in applied and basic research. Applied research emphasizes the creation or improvement of processes and products. Basic research is done more for the sake of learning about structure, composition and properties of matter. The BLS in May 2011 found that chemists earned roughly $75,000 a year.