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How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator

Crime scene investigators, also known as scenes of crime officers (SOCOs), are individuals who visit scenes of crimes in a bid to find clues and answers as to how and why a crime took place. If you enjoy puzzles and mysteries, have a strong stomach and a keen interest in understanding why things happen, and enjoy hunting for clues where you might least expect to find them then the role of a crime scene investigator could be the perfect career for you. But how do you become a crime scene investigator? What qualifications are needed for a crime scene investigator? And what, exactly, does a crime scene investigator do? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is a Crime Scene Investigator?

A crime scene investigator is an individual who finds, records, and recovers evidence from crime scenes. The main role of the crime scene investigator is to document the scene of a crime, using their keen attention to detail to spot and record details that others might miss. A crime scene investigator is employed by a police force and will work closely with other members of that force. It is important to note that before you can become a crime scene investigator, you will need to complete a two- or three-year probationary period as a general police constable This will give you a background in the force and ensure that you have the skills needed to better progress in your career. It is only at this point that you can specialise in forensics and crime scene investigation.

The working hours of a crime scene investigator can be varied, as the services of crime scene investigators are often needed around the clock. For this reason, you can expect to work shifts, including night shifts, on a rotating basis. You may also need to be on call, and included on an on-call rota, meaning that you can expect your work to be a dominating feature in your life.

As a crime scene investigator, you will not have a fixed working environment: rather, you will work wherever a crime has occurred. For this reason, a certain level of physical fitness is required for individuals who assume this role, as your working environment is likely to be so varied and may often be inhospitable. You can expect to work indoors and outdoors, in all weather conditions, in settings as diverse as dense woodland or someone’s living room.

You will not have a set work uniform, but you will almost certainly need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when you are at the scene of a crime, to avoid contaminating the environment. This includes wearing a scene suit, overshoes, and protective gloves. As well as protecting the scene, this equipment will also protect you from any potentially hazardous materials that may be present at the scene.

Personal Qualities of a Crime Scene Investigator

The role of a crime scene investigator is a vital one, but it isn’t a job for the faint-hearted, and it isn’t suited for everyone. You will need to have a strong stomach and the ability to remain calm and outwardly unaffected in the face of often very distasteful crime scenes. Not sure if the role of a crime scene investigator is right for you? You will need the following personal qualities to be successful in this career:

  • A strong attention to detail. You should have the ability to notice small details that others might miss and should be thorough and consistent as you sift through small amounts of evidence with a fine-tooth comb
  • Crime scene investigations can often be lengthy, and it isn’t a process that can be rushed. For this reason, you should be patient and have the ability to remain calm and focus on your work during stressful situations and environments
  • You will be able to work well under pressure and be able to accept criticism, even when working under pressure
  • You will have a knowledge of public safety and security and will be able to enforce these whilst carrying out your role
  • You will be able to work well with others, including individuals from other professions, and will have good customer service skills that will help you to manage the expectations of, and relationships with, others at the same time
  • You will be flexible and open to change, even at short notice. The unpredictable nature of crime scenes, and crime in general, means that this is not the right role for individuals who thrive with fixed routines
  • You should be self-motivated and able to work on your own, although you may work as part of a team, working by yourself is also vital within this job role
  • You will need a strong knowledge of the law, operational procedures within both the police force and the courts, and government regulations around the evidence that you gather
  • You will need excellent written communication skills to enable you to write comprehensive reports about the evidence you gather
  • You will need excellent verbal communication skills to enable you to share your evidence in a clear and concise way with the court
  • You will need to be able to use a computer and its main software packages competently

What a Crime Scene Investigator Does

The role of a crime scene investigator is an incredibly vital one, and you will play a key role in uncovering the causes and timelines of crime by working alongside investigative police officers.  The overarching role of a crime scene investigator is to recover evidence from the scene of a crime. This could be the location of a burglary, vehicle theft, murder, rape, or any other significant crime. As a crime scene investigator, your day-to-day role will involve:

  • Preserving and protecting the integrity of a crime scene. It is vital that any evidence left at a crime scene is recovered, and that the crime scene is kept as sterile and protected as possible. Not only does a crime scene investigator prevent evidence from being lost or destroyed, but it is also their role to protect the crime scene from cross-contamination
  • Assessing the evidence. You should assess the evidence that has been left behind after a crime and then use your skills and knowledge to ensure that that evidence is safely recovered. Deciding on the best way to recover evidence and which evidence will be needed is a vital part of your role
  • Record the crime scene in full. You will do this by taking photographs, and in the cases of larger or more high-profile crime scenes, you may also need to record the crime scene on video too
  • Understand what evidence you will need to locate and record. You will need a keen sense of attention to detail to locate evidence that other individuals may miss. Small amounts of evidence such as fingerprints, blood, hair, clothing fibres or paint should be identified and preserved. The techniques that you will use to preserve this evidence will differ depending on the type of evidence, and your role will also involve choosing this preservation technique
  • Packaging all of the evidence that you source safely, without contamination, and then sending it to the lab for full analysis
  • Keep detailed written records of your full crime scene investigation, producing statements when needed. It would be impossible to underestimate the importance of the role of a crime scene investigator. The evidence that you gather will appear in court and is often central to many cases, helping to determine whether an individual will be convicted or not
  • Appear in court. Your role may involve giving evidence in court, sharing the findings from your investigations and sharing your formal written reports
Recovering evidence from a crime scene

How Much Does a Crime Scene Investigator Earn?

Your salary as a crime scene investigator will be determined by your level of experience within the arena. Your starting salary as a crime scene investigator will be between £16,000 and £24,000 depending on the police force you work for, and where in the country you are based. Experienced crime scene investigators or crime scene managers can earn between £24,000 and £35,000, plus allowances. According to Payscale, the average salary for a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) in the United Kingdom is £26,970.

Qualifications Needed for a Crime Scene Investigator

There are two different routes into a career as a crime scene investigator. You can either apply for the role directly, or you can secure the role by completing a university degree. This will be largely dependent on where you live, and which police force you wish to apply to. There is no uniform entry requirement for crime scene investigators, and each police force has its own entry rules. Most will ask that you have a good standard of secondary education, having achieved at least five GCSEs at grades 9-4. Some will also ask that you have A-levels, whilst others will be looking for specific qualifications that demonstrate a keen knowledge of the subject matter and that display that you understand the concepts that are key to working as a crime scene investigator.

If you choose to attend university and achieve a higher education level of qualification then there are a host of different subjects that you can choose from, which would be relevant to this career path. Popular subjects for crime scene investigators include:

  • Biological science
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Criminology

In order to attend university to study for any of these degrees, you will need to have two or three A-levels or equivalent. Some courses will specify that one of these A-levels is in maths, biology, or chemistry. Some courses are accredited by The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.

If you would like to hone your skills and learn the specific job skills that you will need to work as a crime scene investigator without committing to the time and the expense of a three-year university course, then there are other qualifications that you could achieve that would showcase your commitment to working as a crime scene investigator. These include:

  • Forensic Science Diploma, Level 3. This will teach you how to apply scientific principles to the law. You will learn how to accurately complete the task of collecting, preserving, and analysing scientific evidence during the course of an investigation
  • Forensic Psychology, Level 3 Course. In this course, you will learn how to apply psychology in the criminal and civil justice field. Whilst these are not the hands-on skills you will need to become a crime scene investigator, they are vital in helping you to understand the mind and the actions of the criminal
  • Criminology Advanced Level 4 Course. Persistent crime problems, the way they are controlled and how they are dealt with are one of the main features of this course. You will learn how to understand the controversy surrounding crime and the ways in which it is investigated

In addition to these formal qualifications, in order to be a crime scene investigator, you will also need:

  • To pass enhanced background checks to ensure that you don’t have a criminal background
  • You may need to undergo additional vetting procedures, like psychological screening, to work within some police forces
  • You will usually need your own driving licence to work as a crime scene investigator
On-the-Job Training

On-the-Job Training

If you are considering pursuing a career as a crime scene investigator, then there are some skills you could learn in your current job role that would help you to achieve the position you want. Experience in dealing with the public and working in sensitive situations will be helpful, so any customer service experience or volunteering experience you can undertake where you work alongside the general public would be on-the-job training that would be beneficial to your job application. Because so much of working as a crime scene investigator involves taking accurate and detailed photographs or videos of crime scenes, qualifications or experience in photography would also be considered useful and may be essential for some jobs. If you could gain some photography experience in your role, this would also be helpful on-the-job training that may help you to secure a position as a crime scene investigator.

On-the-job training, in the form of continued professional development, is important for crime scene investigators. The field of forensic science (the umbrella which crime scene investigation falls under) is an ever-evolving one and so it is important to stay up to date with the newest and best techniques for investigating crime. On-the-job training will also be important if you wish to progress within your career. With experience, you could become a senior or principal officer, with responsibility for managing a crime scene investigation (CSI) team. You could also complete further training to manage investigations at major incidents.

Professional Bodies

Joining a professional body for your chosen career is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to becoming a crime scene investigator. The right professional body will also enhance your career, by providing training, advice and support, and a place to collaborate and communicate with other professionals within your field. The main professional body for crime scene investigators is the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. This is an internationally recognised professional body that is considered to be the ‘international voice of forensic science’. The society has four key roles, and these are all excellent reasons to consider membership. They include:

  • Accrediting qualifications for crime scene investigators and other forensic career paths and promoting the importance of understanding these roles within academia
  • Promoting professional development for those working within the field and ensuring that everyone working in the forensic sciences arena has opportunities to develop their skills and work to the highest possible standards
  • Promoting professionalism within the forensic science arena
  • Providing an international professional voice for crime scene investigators and anyone else working within the forensic sciences, ensuring that the profession is highly regarded on a global scale and that international collaboration is encouraged
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