Crime scene investigators (CSI's), also known as scenes of crime officers (SOCO's), attend crime scenes to record and examine evidence. The evidence they discover is then used to investigate crimes.
They attend a broad spectrum of scene types such as:
- Murders, attempted murders and suspicious deaths
- Car crime
The tasks of a CSI may include:
Anything left at a crime scene, such as fibres, fingerprints or DNA samples (found, for example, in hair or under fingernails) can be used to help solve crimes and prosecute suspects.
Crime scenes can be complex and provide CSI's with only one opportunity to obtain crucial evidence. This has to be done before the crime scene is disturbed and any evidence can be removed. CSI's may have to attend distressing scenes, particularly in the event of serious crimes being committed such as murder, rape, arson or robbery.
CSI's evaluate the potential of any evidence collected and send fingerprints and other items to internal police laboratories for chemical analysis. Samples such as glass, fibres, blood and other body fluids are sent to an external forensic laboratory for analysis. The information and intelligence gathered can be used to arrest and charge suspects.
It is crucial that a CSI collates, stores and records evidence correctly as they may be asked to explain the retrieval and handling process, and report their findings in a court of law.
CSI's use a variety of high-tech equipment, including high-intensity lights, photographic equipment, and liquid and powder chemicals. Computer systems are used for forensic and intelligence-gathering purposes.
CSI's work within scientific support departments in police forces. They work with other CSI's, police officers and forensic laboratory staff.
CSI's normally work about 40 hours a week, including weekends. They can be called out to crime scenes at any time of the day or night, and may work as part of a shift or on-call rota system. There are opportunities for short-term contract work.
CSI's are based in police stations and travel to crime scenes. They work in all kinds of weather conditions, and crime scenes may be dirty and dangerous.
In some forces, CSI's wear a uniform. They have access to protective equipment such as disposable overalls and gloves.
The starting salary for a CSI is around £17,000 a year. A CSI with experience may earn up to £28,000.
A senior CSI may earn up to around £35,000 a year, depending on the police force and their responsibilities.
Shift, on-call, and weekend working allowances may be paid. There are also additional allowances for working in London.
There are 43 police forces in the UK. The biggest single employer is the Metropolitan Police Service in London, but all police forces across the UK employ CSI's They may also work for the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police.
Opportunities are greater with large forces and more limited with smaller, rural forces. Jobs occasionally exist with other agencies, such as the Forensic Science Service.
This is a small and popular profession and competition for jobs is fierce.
Vacancies are advertised in the press including Police Review and Police Professional. Individual police forces may also advertise vacancies on their website's. Many forces list vacancies on www.allpolicejobs.co.uk.
Individual forces set their own requirements for entry. Some forces may state that relevant academic or professional qualifications would be advantageous. In reality, the occupation increasingly requires applicants to possess a degree, or equivalent qualification. Useful skills include communication skills, photography skills and scientific ability.
Applicants have to undergo a background security check, and possibly a medical examination. A driving licence is essential.
Some universities offer foundation degrees and degree courses in forensic science. Degree courses usually require a minimum of two A levels, or equivalent, with at least one science subject. The Forensic Science Society has accredited a number of university courses and lists these on their website.
The University of Teesside offers a degree in crime scene science. The degree is primarily a science programme; however the crime scene content equips graduates with an understanding of the role, and provides them with the core skills and knowledge essential to practice as an operational CSI.
Many entrants to this career come from a related job within the emergency services, where experience of dealing with the public and difficult situations has been central to their work. Others may come from jobs requiring photographic skills.
CSI's often start as assistants and are mentored by experienced colleagues. They attend crime scenes to learn police force procedures.
The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) runs training for new CSI's covering photography, health and safety, recovery and labeling of samples, fingerprinting and writing statements. The courses are in modular blocks of four or five weeks and run alongside workplace experience and assessment. The training leads to a foundation degree in crime scene investigation.
Further NPIA courses are available and build on the CSI's skills.
CSI's take refresher courses every five years. There is also a range of specialist courses available, covering subjects such as fire investigation and forensic archaeology.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A CSI needs to:
CSI's with at least two years experience can take the NPIA's Crime Scene Investigator Development course which covers fire investigation, explosives and firearms.
Those who want to develop their skills can take further qualifications. These include the Professional Diploma offered by the Forensic Science Society, in areas such as crime scene investigation.
The Centre for Forensic Investigation at the University of Teeside offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including:
- BSc(Hons) in crime scene science
- MSc in crime scene investigation
A CSI may progress to become a senior or principal CSI with team-management responsibilities. With further training, experienced CSI's can be promoted to crime scene managers.
Some CSI's may use the forensic skills they have gained to move into laboratory roles or specialise in an area such as fingerprint technology. CSI's with a degree in a scientific subject may be able to become forensic scientists.
The Forensic Science Service
The Forensic Science Society, 18a Mount Parade,
Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1BX
Tel: 01423 506068
Ministry of Defence Police Recruiting Department,
Building 66, MDP Wethersfield, Braintree, Essex CM7 4AZ
National Police Recruitment Team
Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.