What Does a CSI Technician Do?


Introduction Most people know that CSI stands for Crime Scene Investigator. However, the role of a crime scene investigator goes way beyond what most people see in weekly television dramas. A CSI is also known by many other names, and the jobs they perform on a daily basis range from retrieving or storing evidence to expertise in a range of fields, including fingerprint, photography and latent print experts.

Forensic science and crime scene investigation involves so much more than merely initiating techniques and procedures. It requires skills and knowledge from each individual involved in the crime scene investigation as well as the ability to get along with others and communicate at many different levels with the personnel of several different agencies at the same time.

As a crime scene investigator, everything that you do, or don't do, at a crime scene may very well be examined not only in a court of law down the road, but by the friends, family and even the media. As a CSI, you represent a large portion of the public's perception of law enforcement after the initial response by uniformed officers and detectives to the scene of a crime. What you do, and how you do it, may affect both victims and survivors for years to come. As such, a CSI has the responsibility of not only performing the tasks designated to him or her to the utmost of their ability, but a CSI must always maintain a professional manner and follow a code of ethics that is irreproachable.

A crime scene investigator can also be known as an evidence technician (ET) or a crime scene technician (CST). He or she can also be known as a forensic investigator (FI) or crime scene analyst (CSA). The acronyms don't stop there, however, and crime scene personnel may also be known as SOCO's (scenes of crime officers) as well as a Criminalist Officer (CO). No matter what they're called, the main job and purpose of any crime scene investigator is to identify and document and collect physical evidence from the scene of a crime.

Many law enforcement departments throughout the United States have various names and job descriptions for crime scene investigators or personnel, depending on location and budget. For purposes of this course, the name crime scene investigator will be used to designate any number of these positions, which can also include, but is not limited to tasks such as:
  • Evidence Technician
  • Identification Technician
  • Criminalist
  • Forensic Services Technician
  • Crime Scene Specialist
  • Police Identification Services
  • Fingerprint Technician
  • Evidence Custodian
  • Crime Scene Search Manager
  • Property Officers
  • Firearms/Toolmarks Examiner
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Crime Scene Investigation.
As mentioned above, the main task and purpose of the crime scene investigator is to accurately and thoroughly document a crime scene and collect as much evidence from it as possible for future analysis and use in a court of law.
In addition to identifying, documenting and collecting such evidence, crime scene investigators are also responsible, if there are no uniformed officers or detectives designated to complete such tasks, for sketching, photographing and processing latent and patent evidence. Latent and patent evidence can include, but is also not limited to:
  • Biological fluids
  • Hair
  • Fibers
  • Fingerprints/footprints/footwear impressions
  • Vehicle and tire impressions
  • Trace evidence
  • Blood spatter interpretation and analysis
Each of these tasks may take a few minutes or a few hours or more, depending on the location, the circumstances and whether or not more than one victim has been involved. Completely processing a crime scene may be eerily simple or horrifyingly difficult. Circumstances are always changing and nothing is ever the same. As a result of this, a crime scene investigator must also be willing to adapt his or her approach to every crime scene, as well as be able to think fast on their feet, especially in outdoor areas where weather or circumstances may preclude a more routine approach to evidence collection.
A CSI is duty-bound to follow proper procedure and protocol when collecting multiple forms of evidence in order to ensure that such evidence does not become contaminated or otherwise destroyed while it is collected and retrieved. In many cases, the inadvertent destruction or contamination of evidence may cause a case to fall apart, thus allowing the guilty party to go free.
A CSI will also attend autopsies and contribute to the process of retrieving evidence from a victim after transport to the local medical examiner or coroner's office.
Above all, a CSI must be able to communicate effectively with others and maintain excellent writing and verbal skills in order to complete his or her job effectively. Extensive and extremely thorough note-taking and documentation takes up a large part of any CSI's daily routine, and such tasks are vital in order to insure proper chain-of-command tasks as such transferring evidence to various lab technicians and the ability to follow up on tests and complied data analysis.
The CSI must maintain open communication between pathologists, other lab technicians and personnel, and uniformed field officers. Following the immediate investigation, a CSI must also be prepared to communicate his or her findings to attorneys both inside the courtroom as out, as well as to convey their expertise and conclusions to juries and judges.
Many CSI's advance to the position from within a law enforcement office, and have had experience working as a uniformed officer or detective for a law enforcement office. However, civilians are perfectly able to fill out applications to various police and sheriff's departments around the country, and will be hired in the same capacity as a former law enforcement officer, with the exception being that they can't arrest anyone.
Procedures, techniques and duties of crime scene investigators vary state by state, though procedures and methods to identify and collect evidence are generally shared by most law enforcement agencies around the United States and the world. The need for specialists in the forensic field is naturally greater in larger cities than it is in rural areas, while the names of the position, as well as job descriptions, may differ in less populated areas than larger ones.
Some police and sheriff's departments require their forensic personnel to be adept in a large number of techniques and training, such as fingerprint and latent print collection, for example, while a large city may have one or several crime scene technicians that specialize in one or two specific tasks.
Most CSI's receive on-the-job-training after completion of education courses required to fill the position, and will be assigned to a field-training officer for a certain period of time. During this time, the CSI in training will be on probation for three to six months in order to determine their overall suitability to the job and to gauge their abilities to perform the tasks expected of them.
The pay scale of crime scene investigators will also vary, depending on what area of the country you live in, the size of the law enforcement department you apply to, as well as the operating budgets of local city and county government. In general, a crime scene technician will earn an average between $38,500 and $52,000 a year, while a crime scene photographer may earn between $45,000 and $53,000 a year. A Criminalist may earn as much as $65,000 a year.
Because the needs of various law enforcement departments around the country are different, and the number of crime scene technicians or investigators for any given area or department may be solely dependent on local or county government budgets, a crime scene investigator may have to rely on a minimal amount of equipment or be blessed with the best that science has to offer. A crime lab might be a small room in the rear of the local Sheriff's Office or a multi-story building or anywhere in between.
Some crime scene investigators have their own equipment and kits, while others must share with others on the same shift or different shifts. Adaptability is the main stay of any crime scene investigator's job, and being able to do the job under any circumstances is the difference between a mediocre technician and a great one.