How To Become a Crime Scene Technician – Education & Certification Guide

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For people seeking careers that are simultaneously challenging, meaningful, and exciting, it is tough to beat becoming a crime scene technician. These professionals, also known as forensic science technicians or crime scene analysts, have inspired a number of popular television programs such as CSI and Dexter. At the most basic level, these are the professionals that report to a crime scene and help to examine, collect, and transport the physical evidence found there. A crime scene technician may be called upon to take crime scene photos and help recreate the crime that took place, working alongside law enforcement.

Since this position straddles the worlds of criminal justice and science, there can be an overlap in responsibilities and position titles. Looking at the criminal justice side, crime scene technicians are considered entry-level positions compared to crime scene investigators, who typically have more experience and serve in supervisory roles.

Typically but not always, crime scene technicians and investigators will have police academy training. Once evidence is collected, entry-level forensic technicians are responsible for analyzing it in a laboratory and are supervised by forensic investigators. Having the job title of ‘investigator’ in this field means to oversee the work of crime scene or forensic technicians, oversee the collection of evidence or laboratory outcomes, and make legal statements in a courtroom or legal capacity.

Since 87 percent of forensic and crime scene technologists and investigators work in local or state government (BLS 2019) lines may blur between the job responsibilities depending on local government funding. For example, a crime scene technician may be hired into a mostly evidence collection role, but later be asked to use their scientific skills in a laboratory setting if needed.

Overall, the crime scene technician career requires a background in science and exceptional attention to detail. Most crime scene technicians earn a bachelor’s before starting in the field and may go on to complete certification programs or an advanced degree to further their job prospects. While this occupation is not for the faint of heart, it does allow people to work beyond the confines of a cubicle and employ rigorous problem-solving skills in a real-world context.

Career Outlook and Salary for Crime Scene Technicians

For crime scene technicians, it pays to have a strong stomach and a sense of adventure. These trained professionals apply scientific principles and the latest technologies in their quest for justice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) puts crime scene technicians in the forensic science technician category. According to the BLS, the demand for these forensic professionals is expected to increase by 11 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations in the same decade (5 percent). It should be noted that some subspecialties are growing faster than others. For instance, subfields of forensic science such as digital computer forensics and DNA specialties are expected to become dominant, growing fields in forensic science in years to come

As might be expected, most crime scene technicians will be employed by state and local governments in the law enforcement division (BLS 2022). While some technicians are officers themselves, many are civilians as well. The BLS indicates that while a master’s degree is not required to pursue this career, in a competitive job market, it can be helpful for job seekers to have an advanced level of education.

Salaries for crime scene technicians can largely depend on their experience level and the city and state where they decide to work. The median annual pay for the forensic science technician career is $61,930, with the lowest-paid 10 percent making less than $37,670 and the highest-paid 10 percent making more than $103,430 (BLS 2022).

Education and Licensure Requirements for Crime Scene Technicians

There are no governmental requirements for crime scene technician licensure or education. According to Career One Stop (2023), 31 percent of forensic science technicians have a bachelor’s degree, while an additional 14 percent have an associate’s degree or some college with no degree. The same site indicates that 15 percent of those in the profession have a master’s or doctoral degree. Typically, a higher level of education equates to more opportunities and higher salaries for advanced degree holders.

While licensure is also not required, crime scene technicians may choose to pursue certification. The Forensic Science Accreditation Board (FSAB) has accredited several relevant certifications. These certifications include specialties such as criminalistics and document examination. The International Association for Identification offers three certifications that are targeted at crime scene investigation specifically:

  • Certified Crime Scene Investigator
  • Certified Crime Scene Analyst
  • Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst

These certifications are not required to find employment, but after gaining some field experience they can help obtain promotions and increased responsibilities.

Steps to Becoming a Crime Scene Technician

There are several different paths to becoming a crime scene technician. Having at least an associate degree in forensic sciences, criminal justice, crime scene technology, or a related discipline is typical. Depending on the employing organization, having at least a bachelor’s degree in a field such as chemistry or biology may be advisable.

Successful candidates normally complete courses in mathematics and science, as well as forensics classes if available. Following is the most common path followed to becoming a crime scene technician. Note that the following path is only applicable to civilian technicians. Those that want to become crime scene technicians via the law enforcement path will need to attend the police academy either before or after college.

    • Step 1: Graduate from high school (four years). All but three percent of crime scene technicians have a high school diploma or GED, making this step essentially required, according to Career One Stop (2023). A strong foundation in lab sciences like chemistry and biology will also help take the next steps toward this career.
    • Step 2: Pursue an undergraduate education (two to four years). After high school, aspiring crime scene technicians should pursue an undergraduate education to find employment. There are both associate and bachelor-level degrees available in related subjects. Some of the majors students may want to pursue include chemistry, biology, and forensic science. An undergraduate program is also a good time to pursue internships or other work opportunities that allow students to gain experience in the field. Work experience coupled with a strong science background and experience in a lab is the best combination for finding work in the next step.
    • Step 3: Get entry-level work (timeline varies). After obtaining an undergraduate degree, most prospective crime scene technicians should be able to find entry-level work with a local or state law enforcement agency. This is when recent graduates can look to the professional network they developed at college and professional organizations such as the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). While standard job sites will also list opportunities for crime scene technicians, having a personal connection with the department typically gives candidates a leg up. As part of their candidacy for law enforcement agencies, crime scene technicians will typically need to complete a successful background check and undergo physical and psychological evaluations.
    • Step 4: Consider certification (timeline varies). While professional certification is not required to work as a crime scene investigator, recognized certification can help obtain new opportunities. As noted above, the most relevant certifications for crime scene technicians come from the IAI. Full requirements for each certification are available on the IAI website, but the minimum required experience is one year for the Crime Scene Investigator certification. The ICSIA also offers a crime scene certification for which applicants require at least two years of experience to qualify.
    • Step 5 (optional): Pursue graduate education (two years) or more. After gaining some professional experience, those crime scene technicians who want to grow in their career, find new professional opportunities, or even teach may want to pursue more academic training. Both master’s and doctoral-level degrees are available with a forensic science focus. However, it is important to note that these programs rarely focus on crime scene investigation and concentrate more on what goes on in the laboratory.

While becoming a crime scene or forensic technician can be an exciting career move, evaluating the pros and cons of this type of work environment is important. As with any professional decision, be sure to consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the latest information on the growth and availability of work in various states and municipalities.

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Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to since 2019, where she provides a unique perspective on the intersection of education, mindfulness, and the forensic sciences. Her work encourages those in the field to consider the role of mental and physical well-being in their professional success.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.