How To Become A Criminalist
A criminalist is a type of forensic scientist. As a criminalist, you will examine crime scenes, looking at criminals, their victims, and the evidence involved in the case. A criminalist works to help solve crimes, using their science skills. This is a good career for somebody who enjoys science, likes doing research, and wants to be involved in law enforcement and forensics.
Why Become A Criminalist
There are many crime scene investigation shows on television. These shows highlight the careers of criminalists in a glamorous way: working in a laboratory, being handed complex cases, and solving the mystery. Many people want to work in the forensic science field because of what they have seen on television.
There is a lot of work that goes into being a criminalist. Criminalists analyze crime scenes to collect evidence. They take photographs of the crime scene and take sketches. They record their observations while at the scene. Criminalists are careful not to tamper with the crime scene and to leave it intact. This is important for preserving evidence. They take all evidence collected back to their laboratory where they can analyze it further. At the laboratory, they perform tests on evidence. This may include analyzing blood samples, and doing other tests. They may research criminal activity in the area. They may reconstruct the crime scene in their own laboratory to understand the events that took place.
The findings that a criminalist collects are used within a court of law. They are used to aid in criminal investigations. It is very important that a criminalist is accurate in their findings. If a person enjoys science, has a high attention to detail, and values justice and the law, then a career as a criminalist is a good choice.
Criminalists should possess the following qualities and skills:
- High attention to detail
- Problem solver
- Critical thinker
- Likes working outdoors
- Values justice
- Enjoys law and the legal system
Criminalist Work Environment
Most criminalists are employed by state and local governments. This includes police departments, crime laboratories, morgues, and coroner offices. State and local jurisdictions may not have the budgets to have several criminalists working for them, so criminalists may have to cover a large territory. This may mean traveling throughout a large area, including different cities, counties, or possibly even states. Criminalists should be prepared to travel in order to get to different crime scenes. The crimes committed may be homicide, suicide, rape, or many other crimes. A criminalist must be okay with regularly being exposed to violent situations. Crime scenes may be indoors or outdoors.
The median annual salary for criminalists was $56,750 in 2016.
There are many factors to be taken into consideration when determining salary. Because most criminalists are employed by state and local governments, the salary is usually budgeted and there may not be much room for promotion. Criminalists may receive a higher salary in more metropolitan areas, where there are larger police forces and also more crimes. Criminalists who have more work experience may receive a higher salary.
Criminalist Career Outlook
Employment in this field is expected to grow by 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than other occupations in the United States.
Technology is increasing and innovating at a rapid rate. There are advances in technology that were not available even a year ago. These tools can be used in the criminology and forensics fields to provide even more accurate insights into crime scene investigation. Equipment can be used to explore crime scenes and evidence. Criminalists will be of great value, because they can use their scientific knowledge to help understand what happened and help solve a case. They will be essential to law enforcement teams.
If you would like to become a criminalist, read below for more information.
Step 1: Undergraduate degree. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to become a criminalist. Choose from programs such as forensic science, chemistry, biology, or many other programs. Courses such as math and science will give you skills necessary for this career. Some schools may even offer a specialization within this field, such as toxicology or pathology. It takes four years to receive your bachelor’s degree.
Step 2: Graduate degree. It is helpful to earn a master’s degree for this occupation. While it is not required for entry-level jobs, more job opportunities will be available to you if you have more advanced education. Consider a master’s degree in forensic science. During this program, you will take courses, as well as receive practical training in the field.
Step 3: Police academy. Consider the police academy as a quick shortcut into this occupation. Many criminalists are police officers who play a dual role as part of their police force. Or, they may have decided a career as a police officer was not for them and decided to go into criminology. The police academy will give you a deeper look into the criminal and investigative side of this career.