Forensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.
At crime scenes, forensic science technicians typically do the following:
- Analyze crime scenes to determine what and how evidence should be collected
- Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence
- Make sketches of the crime scene
- Record observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence
- Collect physical evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids
- Catalog and preserve evidence for transfer to crime labs
In laboratories, forensic science technicians typically do the following:
- Perform chemical, biological, and physical analysis on evidence taken from crime scenes
- Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity using the results of scientific analyses
- Consult with experts in related or specialized fields, such as toxicology (the study of poisons and their effect on the body) and odontology (a branch of forensic medicine that concentrates on teeth)
- Reconstruct crime scenes
Forensic science technicians may either be generalists who perform all or many of the duties listed above, or they may specialize in certain techniques and sciences. Generalist forensic science technicians, sometimes called criminalists, perform the duties of crime scene investigators and laboratory analysts. They collect evidence at the scene of a crime and perform scientific and technical analysis in laboratories or offices.
Forensic science technicians who work primarily in laboratories may specialize in the natural sciences or engineering. Specialists typically apply their knowledge to the investigation of criminal cases rather than scientific enquiry. Those who work in laboratories, such as forensic pathologists and latent print examiners, typically use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also may use computers to examine fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected at crime scenes. They often work to match evidence to people or other known elements, such as vehicles or weapons. Most forensic science technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence analysis, such as DNA or ballistics.
Some forensic science technicians, called forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts, specialize in computer-based crimes. They collect data and analyze it to uncover and prosecute electronic fraud, scams, or identity theft. Because of the increased popularity of personal computing, digital data is often used to help solve non-cyber crimes. Computer forensics technicians must adhere to the same strict standards of evidence gathering found in general forensic science because the need to maintain evidence integrity is still critical.
All forensic science technicians prepare written reports that detail their findings and investigative methods. They must be able to explain their reports to lawyers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials. In addition, forensic science technicians may be called to testify in court about their findings and methods.
Forensic science technicians held about 12,900 jobs in 2012. About 9 in 10 forensic science technicians work in state and local government in the following workplaces:
- Police departments and offices
- Crime laboratories
- Medical examiner/coroner offices
Forensic science technicians may have to work outside in all types or weather, spend large quantities of time in laboratories and offices, or some combination of both. They often work in groups or teams with specialists and other law enforcement personnel. Many specialist forensic science technicians work only in laboratories.
Crime scene investigators travel all around their jurisdictions, which may be cities, counties, or states. Crimes can happen anywhere, so crime scene investigators and criminalists, especially at the state level, will experience a considerable amount of travel.
Crime scene investigators regularly see the results of violent crime.
Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect or analyze evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case. A number of high-level specialists work part time as forensic science experts. Small police departments may also have to rely on part-time forensic science technicians.
Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology. On-the-job training is usually required for those who investigate crime scenes and for those who work in labs.
Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as chemistry or biology. Students who major in forensic science should ensure that their program includes extensive course work in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Students who attend more general natural science programs should make an effort to take classes related to forensic science. A list of schools that offer degrees in forensic science is available from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Many of those who seek to become forensic science technicians will have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science.
Many crime scene investigators are sworn police officers and have met educational requirements necessary for admittance into a police academy. Applicants for nonuniform crime scene investigator jobs should have a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science, with a strong basic science background, or the natural sciences, but many rural agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma and years of related work experience. For more information on police officers, see the profile on police and detectives.
Communication skills. Forensic science technicians write reports and testify in court. They often work with other law enforcement and specialists.
Composure. Crime scenes are often the results of acts of violence and destruction, but technicians have to maintain their professionalism and objectivity.
Critical-thinking skills. Forensic science technicians use their best judgment when matching physical evidence, such as fingerprints and DNA, to suspects.
Detail oriented. Forensic science technicians must be able to notice small changes in mundane objects to be good at collecting and analyzing evidence.
Math and science skills. Forensic science technicians need a solid understanding of statistics and natural sciences to be able to analyze crime scene evidence.
Problem-solving skills. Forensic science technicians use scientific tests and methods to help law enforcement officials solve crimes.
Forensic science technicians receive on-the-job training before they are ready to work on cases independently.
Newly hired crime scene investigators typically assist experienced investigators. New investigators often learn proper procedures and methods for collecting and documenting evidence while working under supervision.
Forensic science technicians learn laboratory specialties on the job. The length of this training varies by specialty. Technicians may need to pass a proficiency exam or otherwise be approved by a laboratory or accrediting body before they may perform independent casework or testify in court.
Throughout their careers, forensic science technicians need to keep up with advances in technology and science that improve the collection or analysis of evidence.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
A range of licenses and certifications are available to help credential and aid in the professional development of many types of forensic science technicians. Certifications and licenses are not typically necessary for entry into the occupation. Credentials can vary widely because standards and regulations vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another.
The median annual wage for forensic science technicians was $52,840 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,200, and the top 10 percent earned more than $85,210.
Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case. A number of high-level specialists work part time as forensic science experts. Small police departments also may have to rely on part-time forensic science technicians.
Employment of forensic science technicians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Scientific and technological advances are expected to increase the usefulness, availability, and reliability of objective forensic information used as evidence in trials. In addition, the use of forensic evidence in criminal proceedings is expected to expand. Popular media has increased the awareness of forensic evidence among potential jurors, and there is now an expectation that forensic evidence should contribute to many trials. More forensic science technicians will be needed to provide timely forensics information to law enforcement agencies and courts.
Competition for jobs should be strong because of the substantial interest in forensic science and crime scene investigation that has been generated by popular media. Applicants who have both a bachelor’s degree in a natural science and a master’s degree in forensic science should have the best opportunities. Digital computer forensics and DNA specialties are expected to see the most growth and become the most dominant fields in forensic science.
Year to year, the number of job openings available will vary based on federal, state, and local law enforcement budgets.
For more information about forensic science technicians and related specialists, visit