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Working As A Forensic Specialist

  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Getting Information
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Make Decisions

  • $59,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Forensic Specialist Do

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.

Duties

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 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 microscopic analyses on evidence taken from crime scenes
  • Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity, using the results of DNA or other scientific analyses
  • Examine digital media for pertinent information
  • Consult with experts in 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 be generalists who perform many or all of the duties listed above or they may specialize in certain techniques and sciences. Generalist forensic science technicians, sometimes called criminalists or crime scene investigators, 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. These workers, 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, such as DNA or ballistics.

Some forensic science technicians, called forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts, specialize in computer-based crimes. They collect and analyze data to uncover and prosecute electronic fraud, scams, and identity theft. The abundance of digital data helps them solve crimes in the physical world as well. Computer forensics technicians must adhere to the same strict standards of evidence gathering found in general forensic science because legal cases depend on the integrity of evidence.

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.

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How To Become A Forensic Specialist

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. On-the-job training is usually required both for those who investigate crime scenes and for those who work in labs.

Education

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. Forensic science programs may specialize in a specific area of study, such as toxicology, pathology, or DNA. Students who attend 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 nonuniformed 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 some 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.

Training

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 are allowed to 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 is 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.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Forensic science technicians write reports and testify in court. They often work with other law enforcement officials and specialists.

Composure. Forensic science technicians must maintain their objectivity and professionalism, even while viewing the results of violence and destruction.

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 evidence at a crime scene.

Physical stamina. Forensic science technicians may need to spend much of their day at a crime scene either standing or kneeling.

Problem-solving skills. Forensic science technicians use scientific tests and methods to help law enforcement officials solve crimes.

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Average Yearly Salary
$59,000
Show Salaries
$44,000
Min 10%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$59,000
Median 50%
$79,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
CACI International
Highest Paying City
New York, NY
Highest Paying State
New Jersey
Avg Experience Level
2.7 years
How much does a Forensic Specialist make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Forensic Specialist in the United States is $59,616 per year or $29 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $44,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $79,000.

The largest raises come from changing jobs.

See what's out there.

Real Forensic Specialist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Forensic Specialist City of Santa Monica Oct 01, 2010 $79,704
Clinical Forensic Specialist Safe Horizon, Inc. Dec 15, 2016 $57,372
Clinical Forensic Specialist Safe Horizon, Inc. Dec 08, 2014 $49,316
Clinical Forensic Specialist Safe Horizon, Inc. Dec 15, 2014 $49,316
Forensic Specialist III (Criminalist) Kansas City Missouri Police Department Apr 07, 2010 $41,940

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Top Skills for A Forensic Specialist

  1. Mental Health Services
  2. Physical Evidence
  3. Treatment Plans
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Advocated for improved mental health services with psychiatric, community, and government individuals and organizations.
  • Served as a Forensic Evidence Specialist, responsible for the protection and handling of physical evidence.
  • Create forensic treatment plans specific to clients' needs and charges, and supervise treatment to ensure compliance with court-mandated actions.
  • Provide technical assistance as required.
  • Consulted and assisted law enforcement agencies in property and evidence room management and operations.

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Average Salary:

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Top 10 Best States for Forensic Specialists

  1. Pennsylvania
  2. New York
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Michigan
  5. Illinois
  6. New Jersey
  7. Oregon
  8. Iowa
  9. Rhode Island
  10. New Mexico
  • (256 jobs)
  • (289 jobs)
  • (78 jobs)
  • (79 jobs)
  • (190 jobs)
  • (67 jobs)
  • (53 jobs)
  • (41 jobs)
  • (16 jobs)
  • (28 jobs)

Forensic Specialist Demographics

Gender

Female

51.1%

Male

46.5%

Unknown

2.4%
Ethnicity

White

63.9%

Hispanic or Latino

14.5%

Black or African American

10.6%

Asian

7.0%

Unknown

4.0%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

61.5%

French

15.4%

Mandarin

7.7%

Arabic

7.7%

Chinese

7.7%
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Forensic Specialist Education

Schools

Lincoln University (Missouri)

10.9%

University of Florida

7.3%

University of Missouri - Columbia

7.3%

University of West Florida

5.5%

Liberty University

5.5%

New York University

5.5%

Columbia University

5.5%

George Washington University

5.5%

Kaplan University

5.5%

American InterContinental University

5.5%

University of South Florida

3.6%

Pacific Oaks College

3.6%

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

3.6%

Westminster College (Missouri)

3.6%

Florida Institute of Technology-Melbourne

3.6%

Barry University

3.6%

John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York

3.6%

Community College of the Air Force

3.6%

University of California - Los Angeles

3.6%

Boston College

3.6%
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Majors

Criminal Justice

28.3%

Business

10.7%

Psychology

7.5%

Social Work

6.9%

Counseling Psychology

6.9%

Mental Health Counseling

3.8%

Law Enforcement

3.8%

General Studies

3.8%

Sociology

3.1%

Human Services

3.1%

Information Technology

3.1%

Nursing

3.1%

Elementary Education

2.5%

School Counseling

1.9%

Health Sciences And Services

1.9%

Fire Science And Protection

1.9%

Computer Science

1.9%

Clinical Psychology

1.9%

Education

1.9%

Criminology

1.9%
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Degrees

Bachelors

35.8%

Masters

33.8%

High School Diploma

10.8%

Associate

6.9%

Doctorate

4.9%

Certificate

4.4%

Diploma

3.4%
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Updated May 18, 2020