How Do I Become a Crime Scene Examiner?

Crime scene examiners, also known as crime scene investigators or CSIs, are specially trained forensic technicians who collect and analyze evidence from crime scenes. These examiners are usually employed federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies and must complete specialized training before working as a CSI. Within the field of forensics, there are several specialties, each requiring a different educational background and training. A four-year degree in a related scientific discipline, as well as post-graduate studies in forensics, are usually required for many of the more technical jobs. Other CSI jobs may only necessitate passing a technical certification exam.

In the United States, the most common route to becoming a crime scene examiner is to first become a police officer and then apply for CSI training within the department. While most police departments do not employ civilians to work at crime scenes, larger cities may have some civilian forensic positions. The education requirements for CSI employees vary municipality, but for entry-level positions, most offices will require at least a high school diploma and some forensic training. People interested in becoming a crime scene examiner can find coursework and certificate training at a variety of community and for-profit colleges across the United States.

A person can also become a crime scene examiner earning a two- or four-year degree in chemistry, biology, or physics and then pursuing a post-graduate degree or certificate program in forensics. Some students may want to combine a criminal justice degree with a forensic sciences minor or concentration. Due to the limited number of open CSI positions, some professionals advise earning a regular science degree, which will be more valuable in the job market.

Field and lab work involving scientific forensic testing and evaluation usually necessitates a higher level of education than fingerprint and evidence gathering specialties. While this type of education and training may require more time and resources in the beginning of a person’s career, it can pay off in the long run as opportunities for advancement within the forensics office present themselves. A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree in a relevant subject is required for many managerial positions.

Before beginning an education or training program to become a crime scene examiner, anyone interested in the field should conduct extensive research. CSIs frequently work long hours for low pay and may be on call at all times to deal with evidence gathering. After a few years of dealing with poor working conditions and horrific crime scenes, many forensic specialists burn out.