I want to become a Crime Scene Investigator. What should I do first?
First and foremost, finish high school and get your diploma. The best way to become a CSI is to get a college education. Once you have your degree, you can become a police officer, and then become a CSI. You will find a more detailed explanation in the sections below.
What kind of degree should I get to become a CSI?
Forensic Science is the best major to choose if you wish to become a CSI. You can get an Associate’s degree (2-year) or Bachelor’s degree (4-year). Keep in mind that many police departments will require a Bachelor’s degree. However, you could also study Criminal Justice or Criminology, but you will still want to have a focus on Forensics. If you have a Bachelor’s degree, go after a Master’s degree, which will greatly improve your value when you are applying for the job. In general, you will also earn a higher salary with a Master’s degree.
How long will it take to become a CSI?
It can take anywhere from 6 to 10 years from the time you graduate high school. This includes the time at college. Many CSI’s will have a Bachelor’s degree. Some people can become CSI's without a college education, but the education makes a person more competitive to get the job that they want. The vast majority of CSI's are police officers. They must be hired by a police department and complete the police academy training and work for many years in lower positions before being able to apply for a CSI position. Once a person is selected to become a CSI, they will receive advanced training at an academy, and serve as an apprentice. While working as a police officer, you should take all the opportunities you can to assist in crime scene processing. This will improve your chances of becoming a CSI and give you experience that will help in obtaining a position as a CSI.
Are there any books I can read to help become a CSI?
The most widely recommended book is Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation by Barry A. J. Fisher. This book is widely considered the "bible" of Crime Scene Investigation. Reading this book will give you a great deal of knowledge on crime scene investigation before you enter the field. Another good book is "Crime Scene Evidence: A Guide to the Recovery and Collection of Physical Evidence", written by Mike Byrd. If you have not had any courses on photography, you might need a good photography book like "Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual", by Henry Horenstein & Carol Keller. Another good photography book is "The Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer's Guide" by Steven Staggs. It goes beyond basic photography and into the specifics of crime scene photography. It contains step-by-step instructions for photographing crime scenes and evidence, as well as example photographs for different situations. Fingerprints are an important part of crime scene investigation, so you may also want to read "Introduction to Fingerprint Comparison". These books will give you a great advantage when applying for a position as a CSI. It isn't necessary to read every single book, but the more you read the better. You may find many of these books at your local public library. Having studied the field on your own will definitely make you stand out as a prime candidate when you apply for a CSI job.
Do I have to become a Police Officer first before becoming a CSI?
There is a great deal of confusion related to crime scene investigators and crime scene technicians. Crime scene technicians do not have to be sworn officers to work the crime scenes, but they are usually specialists in fields like blood spatters, bodily fluids, ballistics, forensic pathology, fingerprints, and so on. Investigators, however, are sworn officers with the power to make an arrest.
We have yet to find a way for a true investsigator to have not served as a sworn officer. The only “technicality” is becoming an “un-sworn” Crime Scene Investigator. Un-sworn CSI’s will work as an investigator without becoming a police officer first. However, almost all “un-sworn” CSI’s work for the FBI, and although they were not technically “police officers”, they did serve their time as regular agents. Don’t expect to jump right out of high school (or college for that matter) and become a CSI your first day on the job. Because of the extremely sensitive daily job of CSI’s, you must have extensive knowledge and understanding of the legal system, laws, and law enforcement before you can investigate crime scenes. Remember, CSI’s have a huge responsibility of solving delicate crimes and serving justice to the victims.
How much money do CSI’s make a year?
A crime scene investigator salary will vary depending on many factors listed here. As a rule of thumb, the more college education you have, the more money you will make. Although this may not always be the case, a person with a Bachelor’s degree will usually make more than someone with just an Associates’ degree.
It is also important to know that a CSI working in a large city will make more money than a CSI working a small town. For example, you will make more money as a CSI in New York City than you will in a rural area of Alabama.
As with any other job, the more experience you have, the more you will get paid. A veteran CSI with over 25 years of experience can make two or even three times the salary as someone who just become a CSI.For more specific information on on actual CSI salaries, see our salary web page:
Return to Index of Questions
What does a Crime Scene Investigator do?
In a nutshell, a CSI will handle more complex crime scenes, such as homicides, sexual offenses, and robberies. They will evaluate the crime scene using advanced equipment and techniques. In processing crime scenes, a CSI will be responsible for collecting, handling, and packaging evidence. A CSI will also have the responsibility for photographing the crime scene (or evidence at the crime scene) whenever necessary.
How can I find out about the specific job description and salary of a CSI in my area?
The best thing to do is contact a local police department. The city or county police departments may offer more opportunity than the Sheriff’s office. Tell them that you are interested in becoming a CSI, and you want to find out more information from someone working as a CSI. Usually there are people willing to talk with you about their job, especially if you show a keen interest in their career. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to talk with a CSI right away; their days are extremely busy. It may take several days or even a couple of weeks for one to call you back, but you’ll find that they will normally talk about their job and give you valuable insights. Be sure to ask what the minimum requirements for applying in their agency are, because these requirements will vary significantly between agencies.
What are the working conditions like for a CSI?
Typically, a crime scene investigator will work standard hours — Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Most police departments will require a CSI to also work “standby” hours. This means that during those hours, they are available at all times to respond to calls. A crime scene investigator must be ready to respond to “emergency calls” whenever necessary.
In addition to processing crime scenes, a CSI will have to appear in court as an “expert witness” and be able to explain their findings to a jury.
I want to go to college and major in Criminal Justice. What are the best schools to attend?
Since there are so many great schools offering degree programs in Criminal Justice, there is not really a “top list.” However, some of the more prestigious schools are John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Michigan State, and Boston University. But there are many more.
I want to go to college and major in Forensic Science. What are the best schools to attend?
There aren’t as many schools that offer a Forensic Science degree as there are schools that offer a Criminal Justice degree, but some of the better Forensic programs can be found at George Washington University and The University of Central Florida. Naturally there are many others.
Other than education requirements, what else should I know about becoming a CSI?
Because CSI’s will spend nearly all of their time processing crime scenes, so they should be in good physical condition. Processing a crime scene will be a more physically demanding than you would expect. The job normally involves extensive kneeling, climbing, and crouching, as well as lifting and carrying heavy objects.
Photography is a must-have skill for becoming a CSI. Since you will photograph a lot while on the job, you should know about all types of cameras, how cameras work, and advanced techniques of photography. Check out a few books on photography if you want to learn more.
You do not have to be an expert, but you should know how to write and speak effectively. CSI’s are required to document the crime scene and their investigative activities in written reports. “Documenting” the scene will also include sketching and photography. Once the case goes to trial, CSI's are placed on the witness stand to describe their findings to the judge and jury in layman's terms.