CSI is more than merely the title of a very popular, long running television show with spinoffs galore; it also happens to be a very viable and very popular career field. Many of those who have an interest in the field have that interest because of things read in books or seen on television or in the movies. The actual career of a CSI technician is not exactly the same as those portrayed on television, but it is still a very exciting career that calls to many, and the crime scene investigatory salary is quite healthy.
The crime scene investigator has a number of responsibilities at the crime scene. They will walk through the crime scene, look for evidence, and collect it. They can take photos of the scene and make sketches. Some of the types of evidence that they are likely to have to collect at crime scenes include fingerprints, bodily fluids, and weapons. When the investigator collects the evidence, he or she is also going to catalog it when transferring it to the lab. Investigators will also have to present their findings to others on their team, to attorneys, and in trials in many cases. The work schedule of an investigator can vary. Crime never sleeps, so it is common to have to work in the evenings and on holidays.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for crime scene investigators is growing at the same rate as the need for those who are in other jobs – a rate of 19 percent. They predict that between 2010 and 2020, the number of jobs in the field will likely rise from 13,000 to 15,400. This is an addition of 2,400 jobs.
Because of the popularity of the field, it is possible that those who enter it will find stiff competition for jobs. Those who have more education, such as a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a similar field, or those who have experience working with law enforcement in another capacity, may have an advantage when it comes to looking for and finding work.
At the site for the ICSIA, International Crime Scene Investigators Association, it states there are approximately 450 police agencies in the country that hire full-time CSIs right now, although this is changing and growing. Other, smaller agencies may have a need for specialists, and often officers take care of many of the duties a specialist would in other locales. This means that the competition could be fierce for these jobs, so more education is always a benefit.
One of the things that most have to consider when they are looking for a new career is the salary and the potential to make a good living. The CSI salary is good, with the median being $51,570 annually in 2010, according to the BLS. Of course, this is the median wage; half will make more and half will make less. Those who are in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $32,900, while those in the top 10 percent earned more than $82,990.
The actual salary is going to vary based on a number of factors. The education that a person has, the agency where he or she works, and the amount of experience can have an effect, as mentioned on the ICSIA site.
For this career, the educational requirements will often depend upon the agency that is doing the hiring. Some law enforcement agencies will require only a high school diploma and time on the force as a police officer. However, more and more employers today are looking for those who have degrees. While an associate’s degree might be acceptable in some cases, most employees working in the field as full-time CSIs today will have at least a bachelor’s of science or a bachelor’s of arts degree. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences has a number of resources for those who have an interest in the field and who are considering it as a career.
One of the skills that will be helpful to those who pursue a career as a CSI include the ability to stay calm and composed at a crime scene. Often, those who are in the field will find that they are at crime scenes that can be disturbing, and the ability to maintain professionalism is important. Attention to detail, as well as problem solving skills, are vital tools to have as well. Great communications skills – written and verbal – are important as well for writing reports and for speaking with others on the team, and testifying in court.
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Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.