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Crime Scene Investigation Certificate Programs

Becoming a crime scene investigator is an ideal job for those who can’t choose between working in criminal justice or science. Justice can be served or denied at the hands of a crime scene investigator, so those with scientific backgrounds, an objective bent of mind, and a strong physical and mental constitution are encouraged to earn a certification or a degree in this field.

It goes without saying that a crime scene investigator (CSI) must be prepared to work at crime scenes and laboratory work environments. CSIs are tasked with carefully collecting and preserving evidence for analysis at a crime lab. As well, a CSI takes photographs and detailed notes of blood spatter patterns, fingerprints, and the types of weapons involved. Testifying in legal proceedings and writing official reports is often the responsibility of a CSI meaning strong writing and speaking skills are necessary for this growing profession.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that between 2019 and 2029, the occupation of forensic science technicians, a closely-related career field, will grow 14 percent which is much faster than the national average for all occupations in the same decade (four percent). For a detailed step-by-step pathway to become a CSI and future salary projections, please read our guide to Crime Scene Investigator Career & Salary Outlook.

Earning a crime scene investigation (CSI) certificate helps students to learn about the fundamentals of crime scenes, including that ever-important component that should be always on the mind: detail, detail, detail. Students in CSI certification programs can learn how to handle and preserve evidence as well as write reports and present material in a court of law.

At an advanced level, these programs can give students the opportunity to delve deeper into the biology and physiology of CSI, even providing potential credit toward a master’s degree, or the opportunity to learn further about investigation techniques, such as evidence handling, and the use of digital photography in capturing a crime scene.

Prerequisites for a Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation

CSI certification programs at the undergraduate level may not require a prior degree or education. However, students interested in crime scene investigation do often have a deep interest in the field or currently work in law enforcement or a similar setting.

Certificates at the master’s degree level typically require students to have an undergraduate degree and an understanding of the depth of work that can come with advanced education. Sometimes certificates obtained at the graduate level, such as through the National University online program, can be applied toward completion of a full degree at a later date

Common Crime Scene Investigation Certification Courses

Typically, students gain knowledge about the broad scope of crime scene investigation in a program, including how to document findings, take photographs, and present evidence in court. Below are sample courses that can be found through CSI training at the undergraduate level, but the scope of learning will depend on the requirements for the certification and the focus of the program.

  • Forensic Report Writing: Provides students with information about the best strategies for documenting facts and how to understand all the elements needed to create a comprehensive forensic report.
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: Students learn how to determine the geometric points of origin in bloodstains and to understand the limitations inherent in pattern interpretation. They also gain knowledge about presenting their findings in court and useful ways to display their information in court.
  • Crime Scene Management: Crime scene investigation is about more than just collecting evidence, it also requires a deep understanding of the processes necessary to preserve materials and a crime scene site. Students learn about legal issues, management, and theories of physical evidence in this course.

 

Undergraduate CSI Certificate & Certification Programs

 

Certificates in CSI are available to those students who have not completed an undergraduate program. This type of certification is common for those that work in law enforcement and have learned most of their CSI skills on the job.

At the University of California, Riverside students are immersed in classes that include crime scene photography, forensic entomology, and rules of evidence. Students in the school’s program also complete a one-unit CSI practicum that allows them to use their skills of evidence collection and preservation, including diagramming and photography, in a mock crime scene, and to do a written report and group presentation afterward.

Those who complete the program earn a Professional Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation. This program is designed for current law enforcement professionals or anyone seeking a career in crime scene investigation.

The University of Baltimore offers an undergraduate certificate in crime scene investigation. This 12-credit program comprises four courses and can be completed in one year or less. This program is designed for students who don’t have science or criminal justice degrees or who are currently crime scene investigators in need of continuing education credits. Students in this program have the advantage of working in the state-of-the-art Jami R. Grant Forensic Laboratories to practice instrumental analysis, microscopy, and crime scene recreation.

The International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) offers CSI certification to those who are actively employed by law enforcement and have been working in crime scene processing for at least two years. Applicants must have successfully completed at least 50 hours of crime scene processing courses. Many of the courses listed here would qualify for this prerequisite. The certification test consists of:

  • A comprehensive written examination of 100 questions
  • A written test of a paper mock crime scene
  • Digital photos of a macro photography assessment
  • Digital photos of a night crime scene
  • Three actual crime scene cases on which the applicant personally worked

Another option for CSI certification is through the International Association for Identification (IAI).

Certification is available through the IAI for:

  • Certified Crime Scene Investigator: Must have a minimum of one year of professional experience and 48 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years
  • Certified Crime Scene Analyst: Must have a minimum of three years of professional experience and 96 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years
  • Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst: Must have a minimum of six years of professional experience and 144 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years. Applicants for this certification must have additional qualifications, which are available in full on the AIA website.

 

Graduate CSI Certificate & Certification Programs

 

At the graduate level, students will find courses to be much more rigorous. In this case, a strong foundation in the sciences may be helpful. Sample courses at the graduate level could include:

  • Forensic Pathology I and II: Students learn the anatomy, physiology, and terminology that applies to a physical body that has typically undergone sudden death, including by Sudden Infant Death syndrome or drug overdoses, and also understand the injuries that present as a result of trauma, such as rape or sexual assault.
  • Advanced Criminalistics: Understanding where evidence is analyzed is important, which is why this class about the operations of a forensic science laboratory has high relevance. Students learn about the correct procedures for documenting lab results and how a forensic scientist often is called on to act as an expert witness.
  • Digital Evidence: This class provides students with an understanding of digital-related crimes, including identity theft and online fraud. As part of this class, students learn about the theories and processes inherent in digital investigation.

For an advanced certificate at a campus-based institution, students can turn to George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia., for a graduate certificate in the forensic sciences with a concentration in crime scene investigation. The 18-credit certificate requires 12 credits in the area of concentration, which in this case would be CSI, although other concentrations are offered.

Courses include basic crime analysis, forensic photography, and medicolegal death investigation and pathology. This program can be completed part-time or full-time and qualifies for Title IV Federal Financial Aid. To be admitted to this program, applicants must have a BA or BS degree from a regionally-accredited university and a minimum 3.0 GPA. A capstone project in moot court expert testimony is required.

The George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC offers a graduate-level certificate in forensic investigations. This program serves students in two ways: a certification that proves competency for those applying for CSI positions and students hoping to pursue crime scene investigation at the graduate level with GWU’s master’s of science with a concentration in crime scene investigation (MS/CSI).

To be eligible to apply for this certificate program, students must have a bachelor’s degree in any field. Topics covered include best practices in preservation and protection of evidence; documentation verification; firearms and tool mark identification; forensic psychiatry; and child abuse investigation.

Hybrid and Online CSI Certification Programs

Like in many other subject areas, students seeking CSI certification programs can find options online. Some of these may be hybrid programs, meaning they combine online learning with some classroom instruction, or be offered entirely online. Below, several different options are listed.

  • The National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) has a 16-hour program in crime scene investigation that can be completed online at a student’s own pace. The course covers topics such as physical evidence, firearm evidence collection and trace evidence. A certificate of completion is given to students who complete the course with a grade of at least 75 percent.
  • Purdue Global University offers an online crime scene technician certificate that is 41 credits in length and 25 of those credits must be earned through prerequisite courses. Students take courses such as Criminal Investigation, Forensic Fingerprint Analysis, and Homeland Security. They also complete a 3-credit independent study project based around an area of interest and approved topic of inquiry. Students may also find this certificate available on campus at various Kaplan University sites. Courses are 10 weeks in length and students can expect to spend 15 to 18 hours per week on their studies. Credits earned in this certificate program can be applied towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program at Purdue Global University.

CSI Program Accreditation

When it comes to completing a CSI certification program through a community college or university, students will want to ensure that the school has been accredited through an accrediting agency. This helps to ensure that the programming and instruction at a school meet specific standards in learning and that students are receiving a quality education.

For example, George Mason University is accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Programs offered through centers or other organizations may have a different type of accreditation, but it’s always best to ask if the school or program is accredited. Students might also find that some programs or schools are additionally accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). However, FEPAC accredits very few programs and only offers accreditation to those programs that are heavily focused on the scientific aspects of forensics, meaning that most CSI programs are ineligible.

Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs

Arizona State University - Forensic Science (PSM)
Purdue University Global - BSCJ in Crime Scene Investigation
Stevenson University - Master of Forensic Science (Biology & Chemistry Tracks)
Stevenson University - Master's in Forensic Investigation
Stevenson University - Master's in Crime Scene Investigation
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Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).