Forensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Most technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Crime scene investigators may work long hours under distressing conditions. Most laboratory forensic science technicians work full time during normal business hours.
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Forensic science technicians who do crime scene investigations typically do the following:
Forensic science technicians reconstruct crime scenes by carefully studying information gathered by investigators and conducting scientific tests on physical evidence. For example, lab technicians may look at photographs of blood splatter patterns and conduct ballistics tests on bullets found at the crime scene to determine the direction from which a shot was fired.
Forensic science technicians who work in laboratories use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also use computer databases to examine fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected at crime scenes in order to match them to people and things that have already been identified. Most forensic science technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence analysis, such as DNA or ballistics.
All forensic science technicians prepare written reports that detail their findings and investigative methods. They must be able to explain their reports to lawyers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials. In addition, they may be called to testify in court about their findings and methods.
The educational requirements for crime scene investigators vary by employer. Forensic science technicians need a bachelor’s degree to work in crime labs. Extensive amounts of on-the-job training are required for both those who investigate crime scenes and those who work in labs.
Many crime scene investigators are sworn police officers and have met educational requirements necessary for admittance to the police academy. Applicants for non-uniform crime scene investigator jobs at larger law enforcement agencies should have a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science or a natural science, but many rural agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma. Technicians who work in crime laboratories typically need a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science or a natural science such as biology or chemistry. Students who major in forensic science should ensure that their program includes extensive coursework in mathematics, chemistry, and biology.
Forensic science technicians need extensive on-the-job training before they are ready to work on cases independently. Newly hired crime scene investigators serve as apprentices to more experienced investigators. During their apprenticeship, investigators learn proper procedures and methods for collecting and documenting evidence. They learn laboratory specialties on the job. The length of this training varies by specialty. Most DNA-analysis training programs last six to 12 months, but firearms-analysis training may last up to three years.
Technicians need to pass a proficiency exam before they may perform independent casework or testify in court. Throughout their careers, they need to keep abreast of advances in technology and science that improve the collection or analysis of evidence.
Forensic science technicians must travel to different locations around a city or region because crimes can occur anywhere. Crime scene investigation can be distressing and unpleasant because investigators see many disturbing sights. Crime scene investigators work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect evidence.
The median annual wage of forensic science technicians was $51,570 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $32,900, and the top 10% earned more than $82,990.
Crime scene investigators work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a crime scene.