First in the country in silver production, the state of Idaho is also known for being the home of the largest stand of white pine trees in the US. The deepest canyon in North America (Hells Canyon Wilderness) can also be found in “little Ida,” as well as Shoshone Falls, the 212-foot Snake River waterfall that tops the heights of Niagara. In stark contrast to the pristine natural wonders of the state, crime in Idaho is rising. The Idaho State Police reported an an increase in every category of crime in 2017, with drug/narcotics, pornography, and prostitution topping the list with increases of 12, 13, and almost 40 percent, respectively.
Outdoor enthusiasts with a desire to work in the service of justice may find Idaho an ideal place to pursue studies in the forensic sciences or related fields. The justice system relies on forensic scientists to support legal investigations by analyzing important information and evidence in crimes, accidents, and other law enforcement scenarios. What’s more, the occupational outlook for forensic technicians in Idaho is good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the field is growing at 17 percent—much faster than average—and predicts 2,600 additional forensic tech openings in Idaho between 2016 and 2026. With bachelor’s degree preparation, the median annual salary for forensic technicians is $58,230.
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services Department is implementing several grants in response to the 100 percent increase in DNA submissions flooding crime labs, as well as an almost 1,000 percent increase in opioid cases, which has been overwhelming laboratory scientists in the Gem State. Accordingly, state and local governments will likely be hiring a considerable number of additional forensic science professionals to deal with the enormous case loads under which they are currently working.
Read on to learn more about how to become a forensic scientist in Idaho, including curriculum, featured programs and schools, and accreditation.
Undergraduate or graduate students aspiring to a career in forensics may have general education, science, math and/or information and computer science prerequisites to fulfill before gaining entry to a forensics, criminal justice, or cybersecurity program.
It is recommended that prospective forensic science students have familiarity with computers, lab work, and laboratory procedures such as the preparation of samples, operation of specialized equipment, and use of microscopes. It is also recommended that candidates seek the assistance of an advisor as they begin the application process to confirm program requirements and the appropriate sequence and progression of courses.
A bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science typically entails about 125 credits of coursework. There are various specializations available and courses in three popular forensics specialty areas may include study of the following:
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services (ISPFS) employs a variety of analysts within the department, including specialists in evidence, DNA, impressions, LIMS, and laboratory science, among others.
Generally, candidates for these positions are required to have a bachelor’s degree in forensics, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or a related field from an accredited institution of higher education. Applicants with degrees in forensic science or criminal justice must demonstrate that they have met ISPFS science coursework requirements. For example, controlled substance analysts must be trained in instrumental and quantitative analysis. Also, biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics coursework are required for positions that deal with DNA.
All employees must pass an Idaho State Police background check and polygraph exam. Applicants with forensic internships, work experience, membership in professional organizations, and publications to their credit may increase their chances of selection.
Job openings with ISPFS can be found on the Idaho Division of Human Resources page. Employment opportunities outside of the state of Idaho can be found on the employment pages of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences or the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.
The University of Idaho offers a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in forensic chemistry providing students with a foundation in chemistry, analytical skills, and lab experiences that lay the groundwork for a career in the crime laboratory. This program is a good fit for inquisitive students with a strong work ethic who enjoy research and are interested in the physical sciences.
Boise State offers a forensics emphasis within its bachelor of science (BS) degree in chemistry. The BS entails study of foundation courses in writing, math, physics, the arts, humanities, and social sciences combined with in-depth study of chemistry (general, analytical, organic, physical), physics, and calculus with extensive laboratory work. The forensics option includes about 30 additional credits in biology, biochemistry, and genetics.
North Idaho College has a BS in chemistry with a forensic science option as part of a direct transfer agreement with Eastern Washington University. Students are prepared for entry-level positions in forensic science labs in state and federal agencies as forensic DNA analysts, forensic toxicologists, and explosives examiners.
The program also prepares students for graduate work in the field. Competitive internships are integrated into the program along with independent study and research opportunities.
NIC also offers an associate of arts (AA) degree in criminal justice that can also be completed as part of a transfer program. Students are provided with an overview of the justice system, exploring all aspects of law enforcement including, criminal law, corrections, and the court system, in addition to police-community relations, probation and parole, ethics, and the basics of research design and analysis. The two-year program is geared towards students looking for entry-level positions in local, state, or federal agencies.
The College of Southern Idaho administers an AA degree in criminal justice. The program provides students with an understanding of criminal psychology, the justice system, investigative procedures, and communities served by the justice system. The program is designed for students planning to transfer to a four-year institution or pursue career opportunities in law enforcement at the local, state, or federal levels, corrections, private security, loss prevention, probation and parole, pre-sentence investigations, or as court personnel.
Interested in hacking? The College of Western Idaho offers a traditional associates of applied science (AAS) degree as well as an advanced technical certificate in cybersecurity—both 24 months in length.
CWI prepares security professionals to protect data from attack with preemptive means as well as conduct forensic investigations in the event of security breaches. Some of the specific skills students learn in these programs include monitoring network pathways for signs of compromise, creating a “first responder” toolkit for investigating breaches in cybersecurity, and configuring virtual machines, machine storage, and networks.
CWI also offers a two-year AA degree in criminal justice. The mission statement of the department includes dispelling myths, broadening perspectives, and fostering inspirational and professional leadership among future criminal justice professionals. Opportunities to network with community agencies, participate in an annual symposium, service learning, and internships are offered in addition to classroom learning.
The College of Idaho offers three minors in criminal justice studies: one rooted in the tradition of humanities and fine arts, one based in the social sciences and history, and the third steeped in professional studies and enhancements.
These tracks offer a unique opportunity for students to specialize within their chosen field of study, adding a layer of focused exploration. Students in the humanities/fine arts may take courses in the literature of 19th century crime, slavery, or immigration, and immerse themselves in the study of post-colonialism, ethics, or human rights activism. Social science/history students may study cultural diversity, abnormal psychology, and social stratification, while professional studies/enhancements students may opt for classes in legal psychology, public policy, and schools and society.
Regardless of the track chosen, all minors in criminal justice studies take the required three credits in criminology and deviance as well as the three-credit prison experience course and have the option of completing an internship.
Please note that these distance-based programs are out of state but enroll students based in Idaho.
Students wishing to study online can complete a bachelor’s degree in investigative forensics through the global campus of the University of Maryland Global Campus. The 120-credit program is designed from national guidelines with input from industry experts, scholars, and forensic employers. It addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of the discipline.
For students interested in the intersection of mental health and the law, Arizona State University has 33-credit online master of science degree in forensic psychology. The program is open to undergraduate degree-holders in psychology, criminal justice, social science, or related field.
ASU also offers a bachelor of science (BS) in criminology and criminal justice for students seeking to explore the impact of crime and how to reduce it at the federal, state, and local levels. Study of the practices and policies of the justice system entails an examination of the courts, corrections, and law enforcement while developing research, analytical, and communications skills. Faculty members include industry experts and criminal justice professionals with extensive experience in the courts, corrections, fraud, policing, and gangs.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the main accrediting body in the field of forensics. Only about 50 universities in the United States have FEPAC accreditation; however, there are many quality programs that have not been evaluated by FEPAC and still offer a high quality of educational preparation in the field. Check to see what other established accreditations your program of choice has earned before applying for admission.
Certification in the area of specialization an aspiring forensics professional plans to pursue is highly advantageous. Certification gives credence to the body of knowledge possessed and area of professional expertise. It also demonstrates a candidate’s professional commitment to the field and sets a standard for excellence in practice.
It is recommended by the National Commission on Forensic Science that all forensic science practitioners become certified in their respective areas of expertise within one year of eligibility. A list of certification organizations follows:
As a final note, the following are certifications recommended for computer and network (information) security professionals:
Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.