Forensic scientists’ role in every case is crucial. In a perfect world, every case would be solved. Given that more than a third of cases go unsolved, crime lab work is an important part of every investigation.
In every case, evidence needs to be examined for any clues that can lead to the motive or the suspect. This is where a crime lab experts such as forensic scientists come in. They are the ones who evaluate and analyze any crime scene evidence. Evidence can be in the form of DNA, blood samples, clothing, shoe prints, and tire tracks, among others. Altogether, they help piece together the missing puzzles of a crime.
Few cases are open and shut investigations. It takes more than just one person to assess all available evidence and come up with a list of likely leads. Crime lab workers also operate with the aid of technology and forensic scientific advancements to make investigations easier and more accurate to conduct.
Job Duties of a Forensic Scientist
A forensic scientist’s main duty is to gather untampered evidence from the crime scene and examine it in a lab. Their responsibilities don’t include pursuing suspects or apprehending them.
However, the evidence that they have gathered is used to indict suspects or to find out the suspect of a crime. For the most part, physical evidence is vital in proving guilt in a crime. Whatever crime lab workers have uncovered can be used and presented as circumstantial evidence in a trial. Using physical evidence to argue a case is deemed weightier than witnesses’ testimonies.
This is because crime lab evidence undergoes a chain of evidence protocols. The only thing that can nullify the use of a specific evidence is when it has been tampered with.
Lab workers would analyze any trace of evidence collected at the crime scene. Trace evidence can be in the form of hairs, clothing fibers, and fingerprints, to name just a few. A lab worker may discover that the clothing fiber found at the crime scene is manufactured locally. From there, the clues can lead investigators into more information that can shed light on the case.
For bodily fluids, blood, or any human biometric trace, DNA testing is used to find matches with suspected persons. This is usually done in the form of blood testing, fingerprint analysis, and DNA matching. The results are then run through in the databases of all agencies across the country to see if there’s any match. If any guns were used in the crime, ballistic fingerprints are taken. Bullets and casings are also used to pinpoint the weapon used at the crime scene.
What Crime Lab Work Is Really All About
Crime lab work is not just about examining the evidence. Lab technicians are also required to prepare and send reports on their procedures, findings, and their research methods. In many instances, these workers testify in trials to describe or ascertain the veracity of the evidence the prosecution is presenting.
You need to have good skills and a solid understanding of forensic science and biology to thrive in this job. Critical reasoning, analytical skills, and knowledge of criminal procedures are essential. On top of that, you’ll need to have a good work ethic too.
Different crime labs from different agencies have varying educational requirements depending on the job duties . If you’re starting out with an entry-level position, having an associate’s degree in criminology is often suffice to nab a job.
However, opportunities for promotion is slim if you’re just banking on an associate’s degree. More than being knowledgeable in the criminal behavior part, you also have to be well-versed in forensic science. A bachelor’s degree is one of the ways to increase your chances of advancement in your career if your aim is to climb the ranks. On the other hand, not a lot of criminal justice jobs call for advanced degrees.
If your target is to become a manager or team leader of a crime lab, then an advanced degree may be necessary. More than this requirement, crime labs also mandate their employees to take continuing education classes. This is done through regular seminars and workshops for employees.
These are all important because this is a field that needs to be always updated in the latest technological breakthroughs. New breakthroughs often pertain to evidence analysis, scientific equipment, and software advances. Labs must also be in the loop on any new trends to make sure they’re operating as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Job Outlook and Salary Potential
The bulk of crime lab jobs are often found in a variety of state, local, and federal agencies as well as online listings. Nevertheless, there are also many other opportunities for work in independent labs all across the country. However, competition for these jobs can be stiff. There is a certain prestige associated with this kind of job and it’s common to see hundreds of applicants apply for just one job opening.
The estimated job growth for this field is predicted to be faster than average. Over the next decade, the government expects a 20% rise in job growth as more and more agencies incorporate forensic science work in their repertoire.
Salaries are typically determined by your location, the type of agency you’re working for, and your current experience level. Higher education often translates to higher-paying crime lab jobs. The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics approximates that the mean salary for a crime lab worker is around $55,000 a year.