(FORENSIC SCIENCE TECHNICIANS)
WHAT DOES A CRIMINALIST (FORENSIC SCIENCE
Criminalistics is the forensic science of analyzing
and interpreting evidence using the natural sciences. Forensic science pertains
to all sciences applied to legal problems. CRIMINALISTS use the science of
criminalistics to solve crimes. They examine and identify physical evidence to
reconstruct a crime scene. Physical evidence can be a weapon, a piece of
clothing, a bloodstain, drugs, or even a vapor in the air. Criminalists use this
physical evidence to provide a link between a suspect and the victim. The
transfer of clothing fibers or hair fibers between a suspect and the victim can
provide just such a link. Fingerprints, bullets, and shoe impressions are other
Physical evidence is collected from a crime scene
that includes the victim's body and the surrounding area of the crime.
Criminalists collect physical evidence at crime scenes and receive evidence at
the laboratory, which has been collected at the crime scene by crime scene
investigators. The proper collection of evidence is essential to prevent
contamination and destruction of the evidence. Once the evidence is brought to
the crime lab, Criminalists conduct tests depending on the type of evidence.
Criminalists are often called to court to provide expert testimony regarding
their methods and findings.
O*NET typical tasks include the following:
Examines, tests, and analyzes tissue samples,
chemical substances, physical materials, and ballistics evidence, using
recording, measuring, and testing equipment.
Interprets laboratory findings and test results
to identify and classify substances, materials, and other evidence collected
at crime scene.
Collects and preserves criminal evidence used to
Confers with ballistics, fingerprinting,
handwriting, documents, electronics, medical, chemical, or metallurgical
experts concerning evidence and its interpretation.
Reconstructs crime scene to determine
relationships among pieces of evidence.
Prepares reports or presentations of findings,
investigative methods, or laboratory techniques.
Testifies as expert witness on evidence or
laboratory techniques in trials or hearings.
Serology is the analysis of body fluid
evidence that includes bloodstains, semen stains, and saliva. To determine the
identity and origin of the substance, Criminalists analyze blood dried into
fabrics or other objects, as well as cigarette butts that may contain saliva
residues. Sometimes the stain is not visible to the naked eye. Blood is usually
visible due to its color, but often an artificial forensic light source is
necessary to see other body fluid evidence. The stained evidence must remain dry
and be stored at a cold temperature to maintain its integrity.
DNA typing is possible with a sample of body
fluid such as blood, saliva, or semen. DNA typing provides a Criminalist with a
genetic blueprint that is unique to each person. Criminalists then try to match
the DNA typing results with a suspect. Proper handling and storage is essential
to preserve DNA test samples.
Trace evidence is the analysis of hairs,
fibers, paint, glass, wood, and soil that are present at a crime scene.
Examination of trace evidence helps to establish a relationship between a
suspect and the victim. A fiber may be taken from the victim's body revealing
the type of fiber from carpet unique to the make and model of the suspect's car.
Once trace evidence is discovered, a Criminalist or other investigator collects
the evidence from the crime scene by using a pair of jeweler's tweezers and
immediately places the evidence in a folded paper cone and then into a sealed
evidence envelope. Trace evidence is later analyzed at the crime lab to
determine its composition and origin.
Firearms and toolmarks analysis involves the
examination of any firearm that is suspected of being used in a criminal act.
Criminalists can determine the kind of bullet used and whether it was fired from
the gun used to commit the crime. Toolmark analysis includes any object
suspected of containing the impression of another object that served as a tool
in the commission of a crime. For instance, a screwdriver makes a distinctive
impression when scraped along the surface of a wall. A Criminalist will analyze
the marks the screwdriver left behind.
Impression evidence is the evaluation of
impressions made by shoes, tires, depressions in soft soils, and all other forms
of tracks and impressions. Glove and other fabric impressions, as well as bite
marks in skin or food, are included. Criminalists also obtain impressions of
dust from surfaces to reveal fingerprints.
Drug identification is used by Criminalists
to analyze and identify illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin, and
marijuana, that are found in plastic bags or vials at crime scenes. Criminalists
must interpret the results of drug analyses in order to determine their
significance to the case.
WHAT SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT?
Important skills, knowledge, and abilities
Criminalists need to do their jobs are:
Information Gathering - Knowing how to find
information and identifying essential information.
Information Organization - Finding ways to
structure or classify multiple pieces of information.
Reading Comprehension - Understanding written
sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
Problem Identification - Identifying the nature
Science - Using scientific methods to solve
Critical Thinking - Using logic and analysis to
identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Chemistry - Knowledge of the composition,
structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and
transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their
interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal methods.
Public Safety and Security - Knowledge of
weaponry, public safety, and security operations, rules, regulations,
precautions, prevention, and the protection of people, data, and property.
English Language - Knowledge of the structure and
content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words,
rules of composition, and grammar.
Inductive Reasoning - The ability to combine
separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form
general rules or conclusions. It includes coming up with a logical explanation
for why a series of seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Oral Expression - The ability to communicate
information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Information Ordering - The ability to correctly
follow a given rule or set of rules in order to arrange things or actions in a
certain order. The things or actions can include numbers, letters, words,
pictures, procedures, sentences, and mathematical or logical operations.
WHAT'S THE WORK ENVIRONMENT?
Criminalists work in a crime laboratory and at
crime scenes. The lab is well lighted, ventilated, and clean. Criminalists have
office space that includes a desk and computer. Since Criminalists are in
contact with physical evidence, they are exposed to disease, chemicals, odors,
and fumes. Therefore, Criminalists must wear protective and disposable clothing
such as gloves, eyewear, paper suits, and paper shoe coverings when handling
body fluid evidence to prevent the transmission of disease. Criminalists are
often called to court to provide expert testimony regarding their methods and
Criminalists employed by public agencies are
usually included in the union's law enforcement collective bargaining unit. Many
unions are local within the public agency whose members they represent. Unions
do not usually represent Criminalists who are privately employed.
WHATS THE CALIFORNIA JOB OUTLOOK?
Job openings for Criminalists depend largely on
government spending, population growth, and the crime rate. Although some
Criminalists have private practices, most Criminalists in California are
employed by public law enforcement agencies at the State, county, or city level.
The Employment Development Department Labor Market Information Division's
occupational survey for the year 2000 indicated 630 Criminalist positions
existed. A survey of some of the State's largest employers in 2001 showed there
are about 270 Criminalists with the Department of Justice, 104 with the Los
Angeles Sheriff's Department, 60 with the Los Angeles Police Department, and 10
with the San Francisco Police Department (city and county).
Projected job outlook depends upon both local
population growth and the area's continued favorable economic conditions.
WHAT DOES THE JOB PAY?
Technicians 2001 Wages
$16.19 to $25.77
Occupational Employment Survey of Employers by EDD/LMID.
Salaries within a crime lab can vary due to the
size and location of the lab. There are five levels of Criminalists at the
county level and four at the State level. Levels depend upon years of
experience, education completed, and job responsibility and authority. Job
responsibilities are similar between county and State; however, the average
salary ranges are somewhat higher at the State level.
Criminalist I and II are considered to be the
entry, trainee, and sub-journey level classes. Monthly salaries range from an
average of $2,500 to $4,200. Criminalist III is the journey-level or lead worker
and monthly salaries range from about $4,200 to $5,200. A Supervising
Criminalist functions as the first line supervisor and can earn from about
$4,600 to $5,600 a month. A Crime Laboratory Director plans, organizes, and
directs the operations of the lab and the monthly salary can range from about
$5,700 to $6,300.
Criminalist (Range A, B, and C) are the entry,
trainee, and sub-journey level classes for State Criminalists whose monthly
salaries range from about $2,700 to $5,200. Senior Criminalist is the full
journey-level class and monthly salaries start at about $4,600 and go to about
$5,700. Criminalist Supervisor is the working supervisor level, and this
position pays from about $5,200 to $6,300. Criminalist Managers plan and direct
a criminalistic program and earn about $6,300 to $7,000.
Criminalists work 40 hours a week. They are also
required to be on call. Most Criminalists that are on call follow a rotation
schedule that can vary with the number of Criminalists working in the lab. When
on call, Criminalists can be requested to go to a crime scene to collect
evidence to assist the crime scene investigators.
Benefits include vacations, holidays, sick leave,
medical and dental insurance, and retirement plans.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE JOB?
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree from a four-year college is
required with a major in criminalistics, chemistry, biology, or physics. This
usually includes successful completion of eight semester units of general
chemistry and three semester units of quantitative analysis. Some crime labs
require a master's degree in forensic science or criminalistics. A high school
student should pursue a college prep program with an emphasis on science and
An associate of arts degree in this same field can
qualify a person for the job of forensic identification specialist. This can
lead to later employment as a Criminalist following the completion of a
A listing of colleges and universities which
provide undergraduate, graduate, masters, and doctorate degree programs can be
found at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Web site at
Licensing and Certification
There are no licensing and certification
requirements for Criminalists. Crime labs are accredited by a national
accreditation association and to ensure continuing accreditation, city, county,
and State labs conduct regular proficiency tests of their Criminalists.
Agencies regularly provide continuing education to
their employees to keep them current on the latest methods and techniques in the
science of criminalistics.
HOW DO I FIND THE JOB?
Direct application to employers remains one of the
most effective job search methods. Criminalists should check job postings at
government personnel offices, local law enforcement agencies, and local
newspapers. They should also contact the California Association of Criminalists
job link at
www.cacnews.org/jobs.htm. Private firms are listed in the yellow
pages under Criminologists. California job openings can be found at various
online job-listing systems including CalJOBSSM at
or at America's Job Bank at
For other occupational and wage information and a
listing of the largest employers in any county, visit the Employment Development
Department Labor Market Information Web page at
Find further job search assistance from your nearest Job Service office
www.edd.ca.gov/jsloc.htm or the closest One-Stop site listed on the
California WorkNet site,
WHERE CAN THIS JOB LEAD?
Advancement depends on experience and knowledge of
forensic testing and principles. There are several levels a Criminalist can
attain. A Criminalist enters the field at a trainee level. Once certain skills
are mastered, a Criminalist can advance to a position as a lead worker, then to
a Supervising Criminalist. The highest level is an administrative position as a
director or manager of a crime laboratory.
OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION
State Personnel Board
801 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, CA 94244-2010
American Academy of Forensicwww.aafs.org
P.O. Box 669
Colorado Springs, CO 80901-0669
California Association of
P.O. Box 190681
Sacramento, CA 95819-0681
The California Criminalistics Institute
4949 Broadway, Room A-104
Sacramento, CA 95820
California State University, Fresno
Department of Criminology
2225 East San Ramon MS/MF 104
Fresno, CA 93740-8029
Employment Projections by Occupation
Employment and Wages by Occupation
RELATED OCCUPATIONAL GUIDES
Law Enforcement Occupations
Crime and Intelligence Analysts
OCCUPATIONAL CODE REFERENCES
(Standard Occupational Classification)
(Occupational Information Network)
Forensic Science Technicians
(Occupational Employment Statistics)
Physical, Life Science Techs, NEC
DOT (Dictionary of Occupational
Note: This is
NOT a job opening. The purpose of This California Occupational Guide is to
provide you with useful information to help you make career decisions. If you
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