Requirements to become a Crime scene investigator

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Gina Smith searches for clues. As a crime scene investigator, also known as scenes of crime officer in some police forces, her task is to search for evidence, from gathering DNA samples to inspecting dead bodies. This evidence is vital to place a potential suspect at the scene of a crime.

What do you do at a crime scene?

The first thing I do is to preserve the scene so that potential evidence isn't distributed or lost. This is followed by a meticulous search of the area for evidence such as fingerprints, DNA and footwear marks – indeed, any contact trace which may have been left behind.

I record any evidence found – removing any item from the scene in the correct packaging. I might also need to swab for DNA sampling, firearms and explosive residue as well as recovering items for specialist chemical treatment.

What equipment do you use for this job?

The equipment varies according to the crime committed. For instance, I use a number of powders, such as aluminium powder, to enhance fingerprints and footwear marks. To test for suspected bloodstains, we use a solution which changes colour if blood is present.

For major incidents I use specialist forensic equipment such as high intensity light sources and electrostatic lifting equipment which enhances or intensifies faint marks. I have a camera and flash equipment to photograph and record things such as road traffic collisions, post-mortem examinations, exhibits/evidence, prisoners and victims of crime.

Is your job a bit bloodthirsty?

It can be, although not all of my work is at crime scenes. In the police station I might have to fingerprint suspects. A lot of my work involves completing documentation, preparing statements of evidence and giving evidence in court.

What background training did you have for this job?

Initially, I did a criminology degree at the University of Wales. I knew that photography skills were an integral part of the job so I decided to complete an intensive ten-week photographic course. This was useful as I helped a freelance photographer and gained a lot of experience.

What about on-the-job training?

I completed a three-week course at the police national training centre followed by a period of shadowing experienced officers. After eight months, I was promoted and had a further four week conversion course, covering more specialist areas such as major crime, arson, firearms and explosives. This course is part of a two-year development programme leading to a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Crime Scene Examination.

What hours do you work?

I work a 37-hour week, as part of a shift pattern with other colleagues. Together, we cover the hours between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week.

What are your work plans for the future?

I want to become a senior crime scene investigator. It would be nice to get involved in management and be able to influence events and decisions.

What skills and qualities are needed to be a crime scene investigator?

Enthusiasm, self-motivation and the ability to work as part of a team. It's also important to be able to work under pressure whilst still maintaining high professional standards.

Gina's route to becoming a crime scene investigator

  • GCSEs.
  • GNVQ in Advanced Health and Social Care.
  • BA (Hons) in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Gina's tips

  • Contact your local police force to request a placement to gain further insight into the work.
  • Research photography and photographic techniques.

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Salary of a crime scene investigator

  • Crime scene investigators (CSI) start on a salary of £14,500.
  • With experience, a CSU can earn between £17,000 and £28,000, rising to £33,000 at a senior level.

Requirements to become a crime scene investigator

Entry requirements vary from force to force but mainly include:

  • HNC/HND or equivalent level in photography or other relevant subject.
  • A forensic or scientific background is helpful, although not essential.
  • Previous experience in a customer-orientated environment.
  • Good communication skills, both verbal and written, at all levels.
  • Computer literacy, with a working knowledge of Microsoft Office applications.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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