Crime scene technicians collect evidence and analyze it to help investigators solve crimes. It takes a steady hand, knowledge of forensic techniques and skill in the latest equipment and great attention to detail to do this job. You’re going to need to get a degree and should expect to undergo extensive on-the-job training to earn what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports was the median income in 2010 of $51,570.
Most crime labs and police departments, where you’re most likely to find work, require a bachelor’s degree for forensic science technicians. Some small departments or rural law enforcement agencies may accept a crime scene technician certification or associate’s degree. Natural science, forensic science, biology and chemistry are degrees likely to aid in your job search. If you work for a police department, chances are you’ll also have to pass the police academy training before you can begin work as well. You’ll continue your education on the job for many of the specifics, such as DNA analysis, which can take you from six to 12 months to complete, or learning how to analyze ballistics that can take up to three years to finish.
There’s going to be a background check run by any law enforcement agency or laboratory you apply to. Ultimately they want to hire law abiding citizens and don’t usually take those who’ve been dishonorably discharged from the armed services. Even schools that offer crime lab training often check whether you have a criminal history that involved perjury or lying to the police. You need a clean record because you’ll often be called to court to testify as an expert witness to talk about your findings.
Crime scene techs need to be critical thinkers. You need to look at the evidence and piece it together to create a scenario that fits with the evidence. While you may be proficient in analyzing chemical compounds, for example, those skills are not very helpful if you can’t figure out what your findings mean to the overall scope of the investigation. At the scene of the crime, you assess the situation and decide which evidence is crucial to the investigation and which methods you should employ to gather that evidence.
Crime scene analysis ultimately comes down to the details. You have to be extremely detail-oriented to successfully serve as a crime scene tech. A murder case may rest on gathering a single strand of hair, a latent fingerprint or an errant blood drop. You miss those details and a killer could go free. You can’t be easily distracted because there’s often a lot going on at a crime scene. There are police and detectives pushing you for answers, spectators leaning in to get a better view and emotional victims being held nearby. You cannot, no matter the circumstances, afford to make a mistake, so not only do you have to pay attention to detail, you have to do it under stressful conditions too.
2016 Salary Information for Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians earned a median annual salary of $56,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, forensic science technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $42,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $74,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 15,400 people were employed in the U.S. as forensic science technicians.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."