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Crime Scene Investigator

Crime scene investigators (CSIs), also known as scenes of crime officers (SOCOs), attend crime scenes to record and examine evidence. The evidence they discover is then used to investigate crimes.

The tasks of a CSI may include:

  • protecting the crime scene to avoid evidence being disturbed
  • searching an area for footwear marks and examining for fingerprints
  • taking photographs of accidents and injuries
  • taking samples of saliva from people for DNA testing
  • examining for trace evidence such as hair, fibres and blood
  • preparing statements of evidence
  • attending court with the exhibits collected in the course of an enquiry.

CSIs normally work about 40 hours a week, including weekends. They can be called out to crime scenes at any time of the day or night. They are based in police stations, but travel to wherever a crime has taken place.

Salaries may range from around £18,000 to around £35,000 a year.

A CSI needs to:

  • be able to concentrate for long periods of time
  • be physically fit and agile
  • be methodical, accurate and able to pay close attention to detail
  • have normal colour vision
  • have an interest in science and technology.

There are 43 police forces in the UK. The biggest single employer is the Metropolitan Police Service in London. CSIs also work for regional police forces, the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police. Jobs also exist with agencies, such as the Forensic Science Service.

Individual forces set their own entry requirements, but graduate-level entry is becoming common. Useful skills include communication skills, photography skills and scientific ability. Foundation degrees and degrees in forensic science are available and the University of Teesside offers a degree in crime scene science.

Many CSIs start in an assistant role, mentored by an experienced CSI, attending crime scenes and learning police force procedures. The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) runs training. CSIs take refresher courses every five years.

A CSI may progress to become a senior or principal CSI, with team-management responsibilities. With further training, experienced CSIs can be promoted to crime scene managers, responsible for crime scene investigations at major incidents. CSIs with a degree in a scientific subject may be able to become forensic scientists.

What is the work like?

Crime scene investigators (CSIs), also known as scenes of crime officers (SOCOs), attend crime scenes to record and examine evidence. The evidence they discover is then used to investigate crimes.

They attend a broad spectrum of scene types, such as:

  • murders, attempted murders and suspicious deaths
  • assaults
  • burglaries
  • accidents
  • car crime.

The tasks of a CSI may include:

  • preserving and protecting a crime scene to avoid evidence being contaminated or disturbed
  • searching an area for footwear marks
  • examining for fingerprints and enhancing any that are found, using powders and other chemicals
  • recording scenes of crimes by taking photos and collecting video footage
  • taking samples of saliva from people for DNA testing
  • examining for trace evidence, such as hair, fibres and blood
  • preparing statements of evidence
  • attending court with the exhibits collected during the course of an enquiry
  • attending post mortems in cases of suspicious deaths.

Anything left at a crime scene, such as fibres, fingerprints or DNA samples (found, for example, in hair or under fingernails), can be used to help solve crimes and prosecute suspects. Crime scenes can be complex and provide CSIs with only one opportunity to obtain crucial evidence. This has to be done before the crime scene is disturbed and any evidence can be removed. CSIs may have to attend distressing scenes, particularly in the event of serious crimes being committed, such as murder, rape, arson or robbery.

CSIs evaluate the potential of any evidence collected and send fingerprints and other items to internal police laboratories for chemical analysis. Samples such as glass, fibres, blood and other body fluids are sent to an external forensic laboratory for analysis. The information and intelligence gathered can be used to arrest and charge suspects.

It is crucial that a CSI collates, stores and records evidence correctly, as he or she may be asked to explain the retrieval and handling process, and report findings in a court of law.

CSIs use a variety of high-tech equipment, including high-intensity lights, photographic equipment, and liquid and powder chemicals. Computer systems are used for forensic and intelligence-gathering purposes.

CSIs work within scientific support departments in police forces. They work with other CSIs, police officers and forensic laboratory staff.

Hours and environment

CSIs normally work about 40 hours a week, including weekends. They can be called out to crime scenes at any time of the day or night, and may work as part of a shift or on-call rota system. There are opportunities for short-term contract work.

CSIs are based in police stations and travel to crime scenes. They work in all kinds of weather conditions, and crime scenes may be dirty and dangerous.

In some forces, CSIs wear a uniform. They have access to protective equipment, such as disposable overalls and gloves.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • The starting salary for a CSI is around £18,000 a year.
  • A CSI with experience may earn up to £28,000.
  • A senior CSI may earn up to around £35,000 a year, depending on the police force and their responsibilities.

Shift, on-call, and weekend working allowances may be paid. There are also additional allowances for working in London.

Skills and personal qualities

A CSI needs to:

  • be able to concentrate for long periods of time
  • be physically fit and agile
  • be methodical, accurate and able to pay close attention to detail
  • have normal colour vision
  • record and report facts accurately
  • be able to communicate well with people from all backgrounds
  • work well in a team, as well as independently
  • remain calm in unpleasant or distressing situations
  • be able to use scientific equipment and computers.

Interests

A CSI should be interested in:

  • science and technology
  • photography
  • police and criminal law.

Getting in

There are 43 police forces in the UK. The biggest single employer is the Metropolitan Police Service in London, but all police forces across the UK employ CSIs. They may also work for the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police. Opportunities are greater with large forces and more limited with smaller, rural forces. Jobs occasionally exist with other agencies, such as the Forensic Science Service.

This is a small and popular profession and competition for jobs is fierce.

Vacancies are advertised in the press including Police Review and Police Professional. Individual police forces may also advertise vacancies on their websites. Many forces list vacancies on www.allpolicejobs.co.uk.

Entry routes

Individual forces set their own requirements for entry. Some forces may state that relevant academic or professional qualifications would be advantageous. In reality, the occupation increasingly requires applicants to possess a degree, or equivalent qualification. Useful skills include communication skills, photography skills and scientific ability.

Applicants have to undergo a background security check, and possibly a medical examination. A driving licence is essential.

Some universities offer foundation degrees and degree courses in forensic science. Degree courses usually require a minimum of two A levels, or equivalent, with at least one science subject. The Forensic Science Society has accredited a number of university courses and lists these on its website.

The University of Teesside offers a degree in crime scene science that is primarily a science programme. However, the crime scene content equips graduates with an understanding of the role, and provides them with the core skills and knowledge essential to practise as an operational CSI.

Many entrants to this career come from a related job within the emergency services, where experience of dealing with the public and difficult situations has been central to their work. Others may come from jobs requiring photographic skills.

Training

CSIs often start as assistants and are mentored by experienced colleagues. They attend crime scenes to learn police force procedures.

The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) runs training for new CSIs covering photography, health and safety, recovery and labelling of samples, fingerprinting and writing statements. The courses are in modular blocks of four or five weeks and run alongside workplace experience and assessment. The training leads to a foundation degree in crime scene investigation.

Further NPIA courses are available and build on the CSI's skills.

CSIs take refresher courses every five years. There is also a range of specialist courses available, covering subjects such as fire investigation and forensic archaeology.

Getting on

CSIs with at least two years experience can take the NPIA's Crime Scene Investigator Development course, which covers fire investigation, explosives and firearms.

Those who want to develop their skills can take further qualifications. These include the Professional Diploma offered by the Forensic Science Society, in areas such as crime scene investigation.

The Centre for Forensic Investigation at the University of Teeside offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including:

  • BSc(Hons) in crime scene science
  • MSc in crime scene investigation.

A CSI may progress to become a senior or principal CSI with team-management responsibilities. With further training, experienced CSIs can be promoted to crime scene managers.

Some CSIs may use the forensic skills they have gained to move into laboratory roles or specialise in an area such as fingerprint technology. CSIs with a degree in a scientific subject may be able to become forensic scientists.

Further information

British Transport Police, 25 Camden Road, London NW1 9LN. 020 7830 8800. Websites: www.btp.police.uk and www.btprecruitment.com

The Forensic Science Service, Trident Court, 2920 Solihull Parkway, Birmingham Business Park, Birmingham B37 7YN. Website: www.forensic.gov.uk

The Forensic Science Society, Clarke House, 18a Mount Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1BX. 01423 506068. Website: www.forensic-science-society.org.uk

National Police Recruitment Team. Website: www.policecouldyou.co.uk

National Policing Improvement Agency. 0800 496 3322. Website: www.npia.police.uk

Skills for Justice, Centre Court, Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ. 0114 261 1499. Website: www.skillsforjustice.com

 

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