How to Become a Criminalist
Criminalists, also known as forensic science technicians, typically work in laboratories examining physical evidence found at a crime scene. Some may also work in the field, visiting crime scenes and collecting evidence for examination. They then use these examinations to find a link between the evidence and the individual(s) suspected of the crime, as well as a link to the victim(s). They will prepare written reports explaining their analysis and findings to be used in criminal investigations and trials. The list of potential employers for criminalists includes private companies, local and state government agencies, law enforcement agencies, sheriffs’ offices, medical examiners’ offices, universities, and federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, ATF, and CIA. While some of the details may vary by employer, the minimum qualifications for a criminalist tend to be rather uniform.
Given the nature of your work, you will be required to undergo an extensive background check and multiple interviews. In most cases, you will also be required to successfully complete an exam before being considered for the position. Some employers prefer candidates who have completed internships in crime labs, medical examiners’ facilities, toxicology labs, or similar places, or those with a certain amount of professional experience in a forensic discipline.
Education & Training
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), criminalist job requirements usually include having a bachelor’s degree, though some agencies and private companies require a master’s degree. Many employers prefer a degree in forensic science, though a criminal justice degree with an emphasis on natural science may be acceptable as well. Some of the required courses include advanced mathematics, biology, and chemistry. This profession typically entails extensive on the job training, which varies by employer. However, you will usually be required to complete an apprenticeship and training programs, lasting anywhere from six months to three years. This allows you to become familiar with the technology used in this profession, learn how to properly collect and document evidence, and analyze DNA and firearms.
Each employer, agency, department, and state may have their own hiring processes. However, the time it takes to complete the documents, background checks, drug screenings, interviews, and exams can take anywhere from six months to more than a year. The BLS shows that the average salary for this profession is $51,570, and there is an expected employment increase of 19% through 2020. However, criminalist job openings and salary depend on several factors, such as amount of experience, location, and employer. Like the hiring process, each position available to a criminalist will have its own average salary, job opportunities, and advancement timetables and requirements.