How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

how to become a crime scene investigatorThe job title “Crime Scene Investigator” is one of many that describe individuals who discover, document, and preserve all pieces of evidence at the scene of a crime. This article will give an idea of how to become a CSI, as well as an overview of the professional career of a crime scene investigator. It will include everything about how to become a criminal investigator including education requirements and paths to the CSI profession to job duties and crime scene investigator salary information.

What Is a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)? 

A Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) is in charge of extracting every possible piece of evidence from a particular crime scene. More often than not, they are employed by state or federal law enforcement, but civilians with a background in science may also be qualified for this position. These observational experts are also indispensable during trials, due to the importance of their professional testimony in the courtroom.

What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?

A CSI is a thorough crime scene examiner that can turn a chaotic crime scene into hard evidence. Their findings will point law enforcement officers in the right direction, and eventually, help solidify the state prosecutor’s case in court. 

The very start of a crime scene investigator’s work is what differentiates this occupation from other jobs in the field of forensics. Their data collection is not done in a laboratory; it is done primarily out in the field. They must travel to a crime scene to conduct their research. Crime Scene Investigators are basically highly trained forensic scientists on call. That being said, most CSI’s work a standard forty-hour work week with standard hours, with only some variation due to specific cases.

To convert a crime scene into practical evidence that law enforcement can use, a crime scene investigator must first preserve the scene, sealing it off to make sure it is not contaminated or tampered with. If the crime scene is contaminated by a civilian or a law enforcement officer, all of the collected evidence could be considered null and void by a judge during the trial. 

Then, a crime scene investigator will make precise measurements and take exhaustive photographs of any possible piece of evidence for a detailed diagram of the scene. Scales are always included photographs so that the exact size of every piece of evidence is known, no matter how minuscule or seemingly unimportant. Labels are also included in photographs to easily refer to each piece of evidence. This is all imperative for crime scene recreation and diagram drawing, which may also fall under the responsibilities of a CSI or their close counterpart, the Forensic Technician.

When everything is thoroughly documented, a crime scene investigator is tasked with packaging and preserving all pieces of physical evidence. Investigators must take extraordinary care in all facets of the job, but it may be most important here. Extremely careful collection of evidence with completely sterile equipment is imperative when it comes to the bigger picture. Everything the investigator finds is further analyzed in a forensics lab to provide further information on the role of these objects in the crime and their meaning to the prosecutor’s case. If these pieces of physical evidence are not packaged and documented correctly, they could be removed from consideration during the trial. If the pieces of evidence themselves are removed from consideration, the forensic analysis of them may be removed, as well.

Every CSI must be able to testify in court about the evidence collected at a crime scene. While on the stand, they have to ensure that the evidence found has not been contaminated or tampered with and they must ensure that the evidence was collected and documented correctly. It is also important for a CSI to be able to convey complicated findings clearly and succinctly in the courtroom so that all participants understand the meaning of each piece of evidence. If they are not able to do this, an important piece of evidence may be misunderstood by the judge or jury. 

One of the most important pieces of this occupation is that a CSI must look at a crime scene objectively and analytically, without allowing the disturbing environment distract him or her from collecting helpful evidence. The gore that an investigator will almost definitely come across cannot keep them from thoroughly carrying out their duties.

Crime Scene Investigator Job Duties

What does a CSI do? Here are some of the specific job duties that a crime scene investigator will come across frequently in his or her professional career:

  • Cooperate and collaborate with federal and state law enforcement
  • Secure crime scenes to ensure that the evidence is not tampered with or contaminated
  • Take careful measurements of each scene they come across
  • Photograph all pieces of physical evidence, making sure to include a scale to know the exact size of the object being photographed
  • Document and preserve all pieces of physical evidence
  • Attend and photograph autopsies
  • Maintain lab equipment and field equipment
  • Testify in court in regard to the evidence they collected at the crime scene

CSI Career & Education Requirements

Becoming a CSI includes specific work experience and educational requirements are expected of crime scene investigator candidates.


Bachelor’s Degree, Higher degrees could advance your forensic career

Recommended Fields

Criminal Justice, Computer Science, Forensic Science, or Biology

Preferred Experience

Law Enforcement

Expected Skills

Attention to detail, Critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills, Ability to remain focused despite the environment


How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field

It's important to have background knowledge into the foundations of crime scene investigator's responsibilities. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, or a Bachelor of Science in Biology will prepare you with the knowledge you'll need to succeed as a crime scene investigator.  Having a bachelor's of science degree in any of these fields will qualify you to either obtain a job or further your education in this field right after graduation.

Step 2: On-The-Job-Training

Real-life work experience will provide you with the intricate know-how employers are looking for when hiring for jobs. Obtaining an internship or a job within the crime scene investigator field or similar will add to your educational background in this area and make you a more desirable candidate. Most employers are looking for 6 months - 2 years of experience in the field, and some may even provide you with this experience when you begin. Collecting evidence, then subsequently processing and analyzing the evidence are all key skills you will gain during this time.

Step 3: Earn CSI certifications and State licensure

Depending on the state, there are different requirements for state licensure as a crime scene investigator. Through the International Association for Identification (IAI), you can complete various certifications to further your career depending on the crime scene investigator specialty you'd like to master. Some certifications include bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic art, latent print, and forensic photography certifications.

Step 4: Higher education could provide advancement opportunities

Be aware that this is not the only route to take to become a CSI, just the most common. Some become crime scene investigators directly through the police force, without earning their Bachelor’s degree and only using their experience in the field. Having a bachelor's degree within this field and/or relevant certifications could assist you further down the road if you are looking to advance your field or specialize in a specific area of crime scene investigation.

CSI Job Titles, Salary Information & Career Growth

According to PayScale, a large database on salary information, the most up to date information for the median Crime Scene Investigator salary in 2018 is $43,860 per year.

Lowest Recorded Salary

$29,817 per year

Median Salary

$43,860 per year

Highest Recorded Salary

$73,034 per year

It is important to note that salaries for a crime scene investigator vary greatly based on location and prior experience. In a metropolitan, high-crime area, an experienced and successful CSI may be able to break into a six-figure salary.

Here are the median salaries for similar occupations based on 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Forensic Technician

$57,850 per year

Biological Technician

$43,800 per year

Police and Detectives

$62,960 per year

In regard to career growth, crime scene investigator is a very interesting occupation. A CSI who is a member of law enforcement can be promoted in the traditional way, through the police ranks (Captain, Lieutenant, etc.). That promotional route results in higher salary, higher rank, and it usually allows the employee to continue working with their original team. 

There is also some opportunity for upward mobility when it comes to a CSI’s employer. With enough experience and success someone working for local law enforcement, an investigator could pivot into working for a government agency like the FBI. That kind of employment would generally garner a raise in salary.

Another unique thing about career opportunities for a Crime Scene Investigator is that many of them have already completed Police Academy training. This gives them the ability to transfer into different departments within the police force. If a CSI decided their skills would be more helpful somewhere else, they could transfer fairly easily between departments because of their completed Police Academy experience.

Your GMercyU Path to a Career as a Crime Science Investigator

Here at Gwynedd Mercy University, we offer a variety of programs that will help kickstart your journey with a crime scene investigator education. Through our three Bachelor of Science Degree programs, you will become highly trained by professors with experience in the CSI field. Find out more about what we offer below!


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics