Crime Scene Investigator Career – Forensic Examiner Salary and Training Info

The position of a crime scene investigator (CSI), or a forensic examiner, is one of the best known careers in forensics. Responsible for evaluating the evidence at the scene of a crime, the CSI secures, packages, and labels physical evidence for evaluation and analysis.

The CSI is also responsible for preparing detailed reports on observations at the scene and activities conducted at the scene for the investigating law enforcement agency involved. He or she later testifies in court about the evidence found and the processing techniques used at the scene.

Typical cases of a crime scene investigator may include homicides, sexual assaults, home invasions, armed robbery, and crimes against property such as burglaries. The majority of work time is spent processing crime scenes, transporting evidence, attending autopsies and briefings, as well as meeting with law enforcement agencies needing assistance.

Other duties are testifying in court, maintaining equipment and supplies, and participating in continuing education.

Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Requirements

Not all agencies require a four year degree to become a crime scene investigator. Some states provide specific educational requirements that focus entirely on the forensic tasks of the job while others mention knowledge of chemistry, anatomy and criminal law that would require an undergraduate education or a significant amount of experience in a related field.

The educational requirements for a CSI are tightly focused on the duties associated with the position. One state that does not specifically require a completed degree program does set a minimum 720 hours of training in crime scene processing includes 80 hours of latent fingerprint processing training and 40 hours each in the areas of photography, death investigations, and interpretation of blood spatter with other courses in forensic pathology and arson investigation.

In addition, a Crime Scene Investigator may be required to demonstrate knowledge of law enforcement investigative methods and criminal prosecution as well as a thorough understanding of the pertinent case law and criminal law of the state as it applies to his or her profession. Skills needed for evidence processing must also include skills in the fields of chemistry, anatomy, and forensics. In many states, the CSI has the power of arrest and permission to carry a weapon as a sworn-in law enforcement officer (LEO).

Forensic Examiner Education and Training

Certification by the International Association for Identification (IAI) and Crime Scene Certification Board is required within 18 months as a forensic examiner. The applicant who has prepared by learning as much as possible about the duties of the job as it relates to the agency he or she hopes to work for will stand out in the interview. Initially, you may be hired as a crime scene technician and progress to the level of crime scene investigator after successfully completing a period of on the job training.

Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) Salary

An entry level CSI will earn an average salary of $51,000 to $63,000. Salaries offered will be influenced by law enforcement experience, education and related experience.

Crime Scene Investigator Career Opportunities

As a professional forensic examiner you will have regular work hours but will also have weekends and nights when you are the CSI “on call” and may also be called if processing multiple scenes requires additional help.

Being available when needed and willing to respond quickly when called is a basic requirement for this career position.

Unlike forensic specialties that focus only on latent print analysis or photography, the CSI has some training and experience in all procedures utilized in processing a crime scene.

Upward mobility in your career can be achieved by moving to a crime scene investigator position with a larger law enforcement agency or an agency of the federal government or by qualifying for a supervisory position.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

141 comments… add one
  • nasly

    i want to know when you are on the “on call” does in mean they can call you at any hour and does it depend on the type of case im working on to get “on call”?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Yes, you may be called at any hour of day or night. Your qualifications determine whether you get certain cases or not (ie. some CSI personnel can be certified to do latent print lifts, while others can do that and collect blood spatter samples and take pristine crime scene photos. Usually those who possess more skills in the crime scene investigation field get the nice cases, promotions, and salary increases.

  • Dulce Perez

    I want to know if you can graduate as a CSI from a community college or do you have to go to a university?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      For the most part, Community Colleges grant 2-year degrees which equates to an Associate’s degree. In all likelihood, you’ll need to attend a 4-year college or university in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. So in both cases you can graduate, however a Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science vs. an Associate’s is more marketable.

    • Ryan

      “I want to know” why young people feel entitled to free advice from folks who go to the trouble of posting their expertise?

      You might try a few please and thank you’s in your requests.


  • Tina Steelman

    I am currently attending Faulkner University and will have my associates degree in 4 months and then will begin my bachelors in criminal justice. Is the criminal justice degree the right step towards getting into CSI? What other advice would you suggest as far as how to get straight there? I am in Mobile AL and I am ready to be part of the CSI team and I want to make sure I have everything I need. Thanks

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Besides a Criminal Justice degree, a new wave of Forensic Science programs sprouted. I recommend this degree track for CSIs more than the CJ degree, but both are useful to your cause. As for help in getting straight there, I recommend speaking with some forensic experts in the area you live in / want to work at.

  • Summer

    I am thinking of moving to California. What schools carry degree programs needed to be a CSI? What schools are “good”. A lot of the classes can be obtained through online courses, but would prefer the campus environment.

  • Chris

    I am thinking of becoming a CSI. I want to know if it is better to major in Forensic Science or Criminal Justice to be able to get the job. Also, I live in New York so does that mean CSI’s work for/in the NYPD?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      FS and CJ are different from each other in terms of a degree program. In my opinion, if you would like to be on the CSI of things the Forensic Science program is a good way to go. Yes, most likely you would do CSI duties for the NYPD, but local county Sheriff’s office, State Police, and private organizations may hire in the area, too. If I were you, I would find out more from each agency.

  • Katie

    I am reconsidering my career path and seriously thinking a lot into Crime scene investigation. I want to know if i am making the right decision in doing this. I am extremely passionate about sciences and basically everything that a CSI involves. I need to be able to speak to a CSI to fill the hole in my brain. I have done extensive research and every time i look further, it draws me in more and more. I am 17 and I live in England and am wondering if studying in the US is better for this amazing subject. If anyone knows of any websites I can possible get in contact with any Crime scene investigators, could you please let me know.

  • JoLeen

    Just want to know if I can get hired as a crime scene investigator with a felony distribution of dangerous drugs charge. I did a 3 year deffered sentence and its to the point where i have not gotten into any trouble so its going to be deffered off my record. Just wondering cause I am trying to start online school for it and need to know if its worth my time.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      good question. I know that felonies are highly scrutinized by law enforcement organizations when it comes to hiring, however I would contact the police department or organization handling forensics (sometimes it may be a county, state or private organization) for more info — you can call anonymously if you so prefer. I can’t just give you a definite yes or no, as each jurisdiction handles hiring differently.

      • Stephen Smith

        Would my driving record effect getting a job as a crime scene technician …..? i have 4 suspensions and 1 arrest for it. but they were all do to not paying tickets when i was younger…no points as of this jan 2011…im 22 and will probably apply next year about this time…

        • Radek M. Gadek

          It may play a role. I just don’t know to what extent, if any.

  • Ms. Pink

    I was just wondering if you need a SSN to volunteer at a crime Lab or anything to do with the police?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      In all likelihood, you will need a valid Social Security number in order to volunteer at a crime lab or anything to do with the police.