According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 17,000 people were murdered in 2007, validating the need for individuals in the field of criminal justice homicide. But most people think only of working as a homicide detective when they consider a criminal justice homicide career, not realizing that being a homicide detective isn't the only career option for this field.
Types of Criminal Justice Homicide Careers
There is, of course, the most popular job in this field: the homicide detective. Other career options are crime scene technicians (in the laboratory and out in "the field"), administrative technicians (to aid in processing the compiled investigative paperwork through national and state databases) and police patrol officers (and sheriff deputies) to aid in securing homicide scenes and to help conduct canvassing of neighborhoods after a homicide, as well as serving as back-up at the time of arrest, if needed.
Other careers in criminal justice homicide are found at the state and federal levels, generally doing similar jobs (laboratory and field crime scene technicians, as well as administrative techs) as their local counterparts, but with larger or more specialized databases and analysis capabilities.
Local law enforcement agencies, not state or federal agencies, are responsible for the investigation of murder (homicides). Therefore, a homicide detective is generally a police patrol officer or sheriff’s deputy who has worked his way up from patrol to the detective division in a local agency, exhibiting a certain prowess in investigative skills that warrant his or her promotion to the position of homicide detective.
While the local agencies can--and often do--invite state or federal special agents to assist, or assume responsibility, of a homicide investigation which is thought to be linked with other homicide crimes in the state or country (a.k.a. serial killings), those special agent positions are not really considered part of the criminal justice homicide careers.
Crime Scene Technicians in the Laboratory
Criminal justice homicide career options abound for those who are interested in utilizing their scientific skills to help solve homicide cases. Some examples of crime scene jobs in a crime laboratory are a blood analyst (testing for the presence of drugs and alcohol or other chemicals that may have contributed to death), a weapons and ammunition tester or analyst (to determine if the weapon recovered at the scene, or elsewhere, was the actual weapon used in the crime), a chemical and drug testing analyst (to discern the scientific makeup of powders, pills and liquids discovered at the scene of the homicide or on the homicide victim’s body), a DNA analyst (especially in cases of serial homicides), as well as a hair and fiber analyst.
Crime Scene Technicians in the Field
Most local law enforcement agencies have moved toward an “in house” approach to crime scene processing in "the field," relying only on state and federal crime scene technicians for lab analysis needs like blood, hair, fiber, DNA or ballistics testing. Therefore, many opportunities exist for less-educated individuals to pursue this type of position. However, applicants must still go through the local or state police academy and take all the prerequisite classes, but they don't have to have an undergraduate degree to apply like the state and federal agencies require.
State and Federal Homicide Careers
While special agents (at the state and federal level) are the equivalent to the local-level homicide detective, they enjoy more jurisdictional authority than a local homicide detective, sometimes lending an invaluable aid to the local detective in getting a case resolved without too much red tape.
Salary Ranges for Criminal Justice Homicide Careers
Administration technicians are generally the lowest paid in this field with salary ranges from $20,000 (at the local law enforcement level) to as much as $30,000 and more at the federal level (depending upon qualification, experience and geographical area of employment). Crime scene technicians in the field (at the local level) are the next salary tier, bringing in anywhere from $25,000 to as much as $35,000 annually, if in a larger metropolitan area. However, this salary range increases considerably at the state and federal levels of employment.
Laboratory crime scene technicians generally do not exist at the local level. But at the state level, the salary range is usually from $40,000 to $45,000. Federal crime scene techs can expect anywhere from $45,000 up.
Lastly, the homicide detective, starts at around $28,000 a year as a local law enforcement officer and may, or may not, see $35,000 a year after a couple of decades of service. Special agents who work for the state start at approximately $30,000 per year with an undergraduate degree, earning more based on higher education and experience. Federal agents make the most, beginning around $34,000 per year and up, seeing better increases than their lower-level counterparts, generally.