Before I begin I must tell you the following is my
opinion based on over 30 years in this field and even though I am
retired from law enforcement I still teach crime scene
investigation, write articles, write chapters in forensic
publications, speak professionally and publicly and have trained
literally thousands of CSI's in basic crime scene processing, not to
mention being the Director of ICSIA and on editorial and advisory
boards, all related to crime scene work.
The CSI's shows have done a lot to bring to the
public's attention the "work" of a CSI. Unfortunately it is not like
on TV, as you all know. And the job market just isn't there like the
Universities, colleges and on-line courses want you to believe.
When I started in law enforcement many years ago
the academic criteria was a high school degree or a GED. The
preference was for a male, 6 foot tall and had military service with
an honorable discharge. Law enforcement was a quasi-military unit.
Almost all of the "CSI's" were sworn officers, there was exceptions
but very rare ones. During that time period most CSI's were called
"Evidence Technicians". There were other names applied but everyone
needs to understand the names were only job titles. These titles
were created by the agency and some had nothing to do with what the
person actually did. The same applied to "Forensic Scientist", most
were not forensic scientists in the crime labs but that is another
story and best told by others.
For the sake of this forum I will refer to all
people involved in processing crime scenes as a "CSI" even thought
they had other job titles.
Only the largest of police agencies had full time
CSI's. And they were pretty much all sworn officers, again there was
an exception, but rare. Because they were almost all sworn officers
they had met the requirements of that agency to become a police
officer. In those days it was as I had stated above, over 21, High
School or GED, male and military service. That was the standard for
years. The CSI's received what amounted to maybe a 40 hour course on
how to collect and package evidence and take some photos of the
scene. They had two kits, one was camera equipment and the other was
fingerprint powder, maybe a couple of other items but not much more
then that. The CSI's then were sworn officers who in most agencies
did more then one job. In some agencies the detectives did the
processing while in other agencies the patrolman did the processing.
If a "major" crime occurred then the agency could request help from
the crime lab, or from a large police agency that had full time
CSI's like Chicago PD. The crime lab would send out a selection of
their people to process the crime scene, a latent print person, a
biologist maybe and someone from the photography section. Even
though the people from the crime lab were called forensic
scientists, most were not true scientists. And many had only a High
School or GED, BECAUSE that was all that was required to be
employed. All the training was done "in-house", as it was for most
CSI's. The old timers taught the new kids. But still a majority of
the work in crime scenes was done by the police officer who only did
it when he had to do it.
As the years went by the times changed, as they do
in life. The requirements for employment changed to having at least
some college, then to having associates degree and now in a lot of
agencies a BS or BA degree is required just to be hired.
Academically the requirements increased. But most of the training to
be the police was still done at the police academy, not in college.
College gave a great academic background to build upon with
additional training. Unfortunately there were good people that would
have made great cops but they didn't have that degree and therefore
could not get hired. A degree doesn't mean you can do the job
better. But it helps tremendously later in life when you will need
it to get that promotion or additional education.
Let me get back on track here, CSI's job market.
As the years went by the academic level increased and police
agencies were finally getting the funding to increase their
manpower. This increase in manpower allowed them to have
"specialties", one being a "CSI". But only the larger agencies had
such luxuries. The majority of police agencies still had the patrol
officer or detective to process the crime scene because they simply
could not afford to hire someone to work only as a CSI, that is
still true today.
I started with the two tool kits and when I left
they had specialized vehicles with over $75,000 in equipment in each
of the 50+ Crime Scene Vehicles. Each assigned to a person, no
vehicles were shared, no equipment was shared. Everyone had their
own portable Forensic Light Sources and all the fancy equipment.
That was in 1998 when I retired, now they have even more! But
again, the Illinois State Police is only on police agency amongst
the thousands out there across the nation. MOST law enforcement
agencies struggle to find the equipment needed to do a very basic
job of processing a crime scene. MOST police agencies do not have
full time CSI's. THAT is the reason why MOST CSI's are sworn
A rural agency is defined by any agency having
less then 25,000 population. If that definition holds true then over
90% and in fact closer to 95% of all police agencies meet the
criteria of being a "rural" law enforcement agency. What that means
in simple terms is not that they are out in the middle of nowhere,
it just means they have less means then those agencies over 25,000
A city/sheriff's department of that size of
population may have about 50 sworn personnel. That may seem like a
lot but trust me it is not, and most actually have a lot less. But
let's just use that as starting point. Of that 50 cops there are
Chiefs, Captains, Lt's, Sgts, all supervisory or administration. Of
that 50 people about 18 are "Officers" of rank or administrators.
Maybe more. That leaves 32 left. divide that 32 into three shifts,
that is about 11 per shift. Then figure that at any given time 4
people are off because they all get two days a week off. Now we are
down to about 7. This is not counting vacation time, holidays, court
time, training time, officers off on injuries. If you are lucky you
have 5 officers working that shift. There simply is no one left to
be a full time CSI. And this was an ideal situation. Agencies of a
population of 25,000 may not have 50 officers to start with! And of
course those agencies with even less have less to work with.
So now all of you are saying well then there is a
place for us in those agencies, I agree! The problem is they won't
hire a civilian to do a job they can get done by one of their own
officers who they don't have to pay any extra money. Those that have
decided to hire a civilian CSI hire them generally at less pay, less
benefits and work them to death so they burn out and leave. If you
are the only CSI in a police agency you will not have any time off,
24/7 you will be on call. That means all family functions, holidays,
etc you will be required to stay in that jurisdiction to be
"available" to handle the crime scene call. I know there are
exceptions to this, there always is, but those exceptions are rare.
Now let's get to the job market for you. Where are
the jobs? They are mainly in agencies with over 25,000 population.
If that figure is true then of the 18,000 + agencies out there in
the USA then about 5% of them are large enough to have full time
CSI's. That means there are roughly 900 police agencies who may have
full time CSI's. Of that figure about half of them are still sworn
officers ( that is changing ), that means there are roughly 450
police agencies hiring full time civilian CSI's somewhere in the
USA. The job market as a whole just is not there to support all the
college graduates who want that job.
However there is hope. If you look at the future
and what may happen then there is hope for you in the forensic field
IF you plan ahead and not just for after college. Trust me on this.
At some time in your career as a CSI you will have had enough. That
usually comes between 7 to 10 years, then what? What training as a
CSI can you use in another area of employment? However if your
degree is in one of the sciences, biology or chemistry then you can
not only get a job in a crime lab but also open the job market to
you in the private sector labs. While you are waiting to get that
job as a CSI, your lifelong dream, you can get a job in the private
sector IF you have the right degree. A Criminal Justice Degree or a
CSI degree is NOT going to do that for you.
I am a cop. I have been one all my career and
still feel that I am. I do not understand why anyone wants to be a
CSI without being a cop first. It just doesn't make sense to me. It
is like wanting to be a brain surgeon but not wanting to be a doctor
first. It just doesn't make sense to me. But then I am not 21
anymore and the world and job market is different. If you want to be
a CSI I think that is GREAT! But being a cop first will give you
more experience then you can ever imagine. Plus there are several
avenues in law enforcement that opens up new areas to find a career
I retired at 50 years of age with a full
retirement and benefits that I will have until the day I die. My
spouse will also receive those benefits for the rest of her life,
can you as a civilian CSI? Long range planning is a must, live for
tomorrow not just for today.
If you want the best of all worlds, get your
degree in chemistry or biology, minor in Criminal Justice and you
will have the BEST chance of getting the job you want.
I am sorry for the long post but I felt it was
needed to explain some things to those that have their heart set on
being a CSI. There are exceptions to everything and I am sure some
of you will disagree with what I have said. It is your life, you
make your own decisions, but trust me on this, a biology or
chemistry degree will get you farther in the forensic world then any
If you doubt what I am telling you then go ask
your local police agency, your sheriff's department, the state
police, the FBI, the local Medical Examiner and the crime lab what
they require to be hired as a CSI by them.
Thanks for your time.
Hayden B Baldwin