Careers in Forensics

Introduction to Forensics
Forensics If you're not familiar with the forensic side of public safety, there are some things you probably ought to know.

First of all, no one just "joins" the police force and instantly becomes a forensic expert. There may be some agencies that will train new people, but for the most part, applicants have already undergone a course of study in forensics or a field of forensics.

The basic entry level position is typically referred to as a field evidence technician or forensic specialist.

The importance of accredited training

While there are some programs that offer some level of certification or degree with the name "forensics" in it, one should be careful about selecting a course of study by a program that is often not either honored by your state's academic accreditation or some of the professional accrediting sources. While some local community colleges and some four year colleges and universities do have some form of forensic program, make sure that they are either transferrable college credits or that the graduates from those programs are accepted by the local police agencies for employment in forensic positions.

Working the crime scene vs. the crime lab

In addition, there is also a separation of roles from crime scene technicians vs those who work solely in a crime lab. Those who typically work on the labs are usually "criminalists" who have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in either chemistry or biology. They are the ones who process the evidence that is collected by the forensic specialists at the scene.

While there may be fingerprint evidence, there is also a split in duties from forensic specialist to those who either collect and process "latent" (invisible to the naked eye) fingerprints, to those who try to compare a set of known prints, such as those found at a crime scene, to those prints that are "unknown." Once they are "matched," then we have a connection from the crime scene to a particular individual. The same applies for DNA evidence as the same type of "match" must occur. Other specialties in forensics are listed belore with some job descriptions. In addition, we'll post some forensic resources for you to consider when deciding on your own choice of careers.

Career options in forensics

While some of the more common positions in forensic are listed here, it is by no means a comprehensive list. The IAI, or The International Association of Identification, certifies many of the following positions after a rigid course of study, hands on experience and a performance based examination. The IAI website is:

Additional information

Some of the links below are to other agencies, professional associations or programs with job links and descriptions:
Job Descriptions
The following job descriptions have been culled from various public safety offices in California to give you an idea of what is required for various jobs.

Fingerprint Technician I
  • Receives training in recording, classifying, filing and retrieving records in both the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) and manual fingerprint systems.
  • Learns to make comparisons of rolled inked and computer image fingerprints.
  • Learns to maintain files and logs; writes clear and accurate reports.
  • Learns to testify in court.
  • Assists other Fingerprint Technicians and Fingerprint Examiners as required.
Minimum Requirements:
    Option A) Experience: Six (6) months of full-time experience with a law enforcement organization or other governmental agency as a specialist in fingerprint collection, classification, or identification; experience must include use of computer programs.
    Option B) Certification: Forty (40) hours of instruction in fingerprinting, resulting in a certificate(s) issued by a recognized institution (i.e., Dept. of Justice, CA Criminalistics Institute, etc.).
    Option C) Education: Nine (9) semesters (12 quarter) units of completed college coursework in forensic science, police science or a closely related field that must include at least one course in fingerprinting.

Latent Print Examiner I
Latent Print Examiners I work under general supervision in a training program, performing routine examinations of latent finger, palm and foot prints to determine quality and identity; performing routine work in the comparison of known prints of suspects with latent prints; preparing and entering latent prints into an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (A.F.I.S./I.A.F.I.S.); preparing digital photographs, charts and other materials for presentation of evidence in court; testifying in court; and maintaining logs and records of examinations performed.

Completion of 80 hours of training/course work on fingerprint or latent print identification and comparison by a recognized law enforcement agency, P.O.S.T., F.B.I., Department of Justice, or a recognized professional institute. (You must submit proof of training.)
- OR -

An Associate of Science Degree in Forensic Technology (formerly Evidence Technology) that includes course work in Basic Fingerprinting and Advanced Fingerprinting. (You must submit a copy of your diploma or a transcript indicating the degree has been awarded.)
- OR -

A Certificate in Forensic Technology that includes college/university level course work in Basic Fingerprinting and Advanced Fingerprinting. (You must submit a copy of your certificate or a transcript indicating the certificate has been awarded.)

NOTE: Experience may not substitute for the educational requirements.

Forensic Specialist - Crime Scene Investigation (Orange County Sheriff)
Duties: Assignments will be made to the crime scene investigation unit. The duties include: Perform routine field, laboratory and/or darkroom assignments for which well defined procedures and guidelines have been established; assists on complex assignments under close supervision; performs latent to inked fingerprint comparisons, process and photograph less complex crime scenes; search crime scenes for fingerprints and other physical evidence; develop latent fingerprints; perform less complex laboratory examinations on physical evidence using established methodologies, prepare finished crime scene sketches for court, prepare reports reflecting work activity.

Requirements: Six months as a Forensic Specialist Trainee with the County of Orange OR, one year employment in crime scene investigation, fingerprint analysis, or a police or commercial photography lab OR, an AA degree in police science or Administration of Justice including at least eight units of photography OR, degree or certificate in photography with training in the use of the camera and darkroom techniques OR BA/BS degree in police science, forensic science, photography, chemistry, biochemistry or a closely related scientific field involving chemical analysis OR some combination of the above training and experience totaling one year.

Desirable Qualifications: Successful completion of a Field Evidence Technician Class, Fingerprint Class, Crime Scene Investigation/Photography class or other related Forensic Specialist related courses taught by Forensic Science and Police Science professionals.

General Knowledge of: Goals of crime scene investigation and fundamentals of physical evidence recognition, collection and preservation; routine crime scene and physical evidence photography; techniques of latent print development, collection and preservation; fingerprint pattern recognition, classification, and searching and comparisons.

Ability to: Photograph simple crime scenes and physical evidence; develop latent print fingerprints on typical surfaces using conventional techniques; draw finished crime scene sketches and prepare other court exhibits; learn to make laboratory examinations of physical evidence; and testify in court.

Criminalist II
Under general supervision, a Criminalist II evaluates and scientifically examines the nature, origin and significance of physical evidence in criminal investigations. Essential functions of the job include: examining and identifying controlled substances; examining and identifying trace evidence; examining, identifying and comparing impression evidence; maintaining and operating laboratory instruments; maintaining and calibrating breath alcohol instruments; preparing detailed notes and reports of scientific findings; providing expert testimony in court.

Minimum Qualifications
  1. Possession of a baccalaureate degree from an accredited four-year college or university with major course work in criminalistics, chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, or a closely related field; AND
  2. Two (2) years of casework experience working in a laboratory performing duties of a criminalist (equivalent to the the City's Criminalist I); AND
  3. Possession of a valid Driver License
    Course work must include 8 semester units of chemistry with lab and 8 semester units of organic chemistry with lab.

    Four semester units of analytical chemistry with lab is desirable.

    Possession of a postgraduate degree in criminalistics, chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, or a closely related field with successful completion of coursework may be substituted for up to a year of the required laboratory experience.

Crime Scene Technician
To perform crime scene duties by identifying, collecting, preserving and processing physical evidence at crime scenes and in a laboratory; to prepare appropriate reports; assist in criminal investigations; testify in court; and assist in other duties as assigned.

Supervision Received and Exercised

Receives general direction and functional supervision from sworn personnel, and technical supervision from the Police Identification Specialist.

Examples of Duties - Duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:
  1. Performs technical tasks in the collection and preservation of evidence at a crime scene such as lifting fingerprints, collecting body fluids and clothing, dislodging bullets, and making plaster impressions.
  2. Packages evidence for storage; ensures proper procedures are followed.
  3. Photographs a wide variety of situations to ensure proper documentation of the crime scene.
  4. Prepares reports and records of crime scenes and evidence collected; prepares diagrams.
  5. Testifies in court regarding the crime scene and the evidence collected.
  6. Performs duties related to other areas of civilian police activities as necessary.
  7. Reports to crime scenes to collect evidence on a 24-hour basis as needed.
  8. Performs related duties as assigned.
Minimum Qualifications

Knowledge of:
  • - Basic report writing
  • - Basic photography
  • - Fingerprint processing
  • - Evidence collection and packaging
Ability to:
  • - Learn principles and practices of technical crime scene processing and crime scene reconstruction.
  • - Locate, analyze and interpret data related to crime scene work.
  • - Communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing.
  • - Physically perform assigned tasks.
  • - Establish and maintain effective working relationships with those contacted in the course of work.
Experience and Training: Any combination of experience and training that would likely provide the required knowledge and abilities is qualifying. A typical way to obtain the knowledge and abilities would be:
    Experience - Two years of law enforcement experience. Crime scene training is highly desirable.

    Education - Equivalent to the completion of the twelfth grade. Courses in collection and preservation of evidence is highly desirable.

    Licenses or Certificate - Possession of, or ability to obtain, a valid Class C California driver's license.
Source: City of Hawyard, California