On television, crime scene investigators are shown getting in harms way and working on the front lines of police investigations. While some CSI technicians work directly on crime scenes, others work in controlled lab environments. If you want to be a crime scene investigator, but prefer a controlled work environment, rather than field work, then a career as a CSI lab technician may be a good option for you.
CSI lab technicians perform scientific analyses on crime scene evidence using microscopes, analysis equipment and chemicals. They also work extensively with computers, using databases to examine fingerprints, DNA and other evidence. CSI lab technicians may specialize in a specific area of forensics, such as DNA analysis. CSI lab technicians must complete lab reports to document their findings, and should be able to explain their reports to lawyers, law enforcement officials and juries.
As of 2010, there were 13,000 crime scene investigators in the United States. Ninety percent of them worked in police departments, crime labs, morgues and coroner's offices. While some CSI technicians do field work, CSI lab technicians work predominantly in laboratories. Unlike field investigators, CSI lab technicians typically work a standard work week, but may be called to work outside of regular hours if they are urgently needed.
Although some rural police agencies hire crime scene investigators who only have a high school diploma, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "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." The BLS also recommends that students majoring in forensic science ensure that their course load includes math, chemistry and biology. Some CSI lab technicians may also be sworn police officers who have attended a police academy.
Pay and Job Growth
As of 2010 the median wage for crime scene investigators was $51,570 per year. The top 10 percent earned in excess of $82,990, while the lowest 10 percent made less than $32,900. Between 2010 and 2020, all occupations in the United States are expected to grow by 14 percent. The growth for crime scene investigators is expected to be slightly greater, at 19 percent over this period. According to the BLS, this growth is due to an expected increase in forensic evidence in court cases. But the BLS also cautions that there will be stiff competition due to an increased interest in the profession linked to TV shows like "CSI Miami."