How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI): Education and Training (2024)

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI): Education and Training (1)The 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 ofhow 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)?
  • What Does a Crime Scene Investigator Do?
  • CSI Job Duties
  • How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)?

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, orBiology

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 aBachelor of Science in Criminal Justice,Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, or aBachelor of Science in Biologywill 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 theInternational 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!

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
  • Bachelor of Science in Biology

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI): Education and Training (2024)


How do I learn to be a CSI? ›

How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)?
  1. Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in a Related Field. ...
  2. Step 2: On-The-Job-Training. ...
  3. Step 3: Earn CSI certifications and State licensure. ...
  4. Step 4: Higher education could provide advancement opportunities.

Is it hard to get into CSI? ›

It is often difficult to find a entry-level CSI job. The article Finding an entry level CSI job has suggestions for finding your first job as a Crime Scene Investigator.

How long would it take to become a CSI? ›

The International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) provides a CSI certification to professionals with at least two years of experience and 50 hours of crime scene processing coursework. Candidates must pass a 100-question exam and submit examples of crime scene photography as proof of experience.

What should I study for CSI? ›

CSIs typically need a bachelor's degree in either a natural or forensic science, such as chemistry or biology, or in a field such as criminal justice, crime scene technology, or criminology.

Is CSI a good career? ›

The work is varied and interesting. CSIs earn a good average salary. This depends on what state and the police department they work in, but most CSIs earn a comfortable living that can provide a good life for themselves and their families. The average salary for a CSI in the United States is $93,809 per year.

How do I get into forensics without a degree? ›

You can earn a certificate in Crime Scene Investigation by completing courses in the Crime Scene Investigation Certificate program through the University of California, Riverside. This certificate program can be taken by students with or without a college degree.

Can you be a CSI without college? ›

Although some CSI positions only require a high school diploma, preference is given to persons with at least an associate's degree in criminal justice, forensic science or police science.

Is CSI a stressful job? ›

There are several benefits to being a criminal investigator, such as developing investigative and analytical skills, helping protect communities from crime, and seeking justice for victims. However, it can be extremely stressful and demanding work, involving long hours and potentially dangerous situations.

Do most CSI carry guns? ›

A sworn CSI is a police officer who has had the usual certification process, has arrest authority, and in the United States carries a firearm. A civilian CSI is not a police officer, does not have certifications or arrest authority, and does not carry a firearm.

What is the hardest part of being a CSI? ›

Physically Demanding

Crime scene investigators may be required to lift, bend, stretch, crawl, and climb to gather evidence. Slogging through mud and almost impassable conditions are often part of the job. When collecting evidence, you may spend hours on your knees in uncomfortable positions.

What skills are required to become a crime scene technician? ›

Required Skills
  • Analytical skills. Technicians must be detail-oriented to be good at collecting and analyzing evidence.
  • Communication skills. Techs often write reports and testify about those reports in court. ...
  • Critical-thinking skills. ...
  • Math and science skills. ...
  • Problem-solving skills.
Jul 8, 2021

What is the average age of a CSI? ›

Criminal Investigator age breakdown

The average age of criminal investigators is 40+ years years old, representing 69% of the criminal investigator population.

Do you need to be good at math to be a CSI? ›

There are subjects like Research methodology and statistics in one of the 6 semesters in bsc and most certainly in masters too. So, you are expected to have basic mathematical knowledge as you will come across such problems.

What does a CSI do on a daily basis? ›

Crime Scene Investigator duties and responsibilities

Identifying and recording physical evidence such as impressions, DNA evidence, firearms evidence and chemical evidence. Following a strict procedural code to document and preserve physical evidence to send to a forensic lab for analysis.

Is criminology a good major for CSI? ›

A criminology degree can prepare you for a variety of roles focused on understanding crimes and criminal behavior, such as crime scene investigator, criminal investigator, correctional officer and criminal intelligence analyst.

What is the difference between CSI and forensic scientist? ›

CSI vs. forensic science, are they the same? Forensic science and crime scene investigation are related fields, but they are not exactly the same. Forensic science is a broad field that includes many different specialties whereas CSI focuses on the collection and analysis of physical evidence at a crime scene.

How do I become a crime scene cleaner? ›

No formal education is required to be a crime scene cleaner. However, most bioremediation companies offer OSHA training and on-the-job education sessions. Some training programs that you may encounter as a crime scene cleaner include: Bloodborne pathogen training.

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