Crime Lab Worker

In a perfect world, a police officer or detective would be able to get a confession from every person that committed a crime. Of course, this rarely ever happens. Often, law enforcement agents are not even sure who committed the crime. They have a long list of suspects, but need to have the evidence examined for further clues. That's where a crime lab worker comes in. A crime lab worker helps examine and analyze DNA, blood evidence, clothing, shoe prints, and even tire tracks to help determine who committed the crime. Cases are seldom open and shut. It can take many people to analyze the evidence and come up with a list of suspects. A crime lab worker might also analyze evidence from cold cases as new forensic scientific advancements are made.

Job Duties

A crime lab worker's primary job responsibility is to use forensic science to analyze evidence from the crime scene. A lab worker is not responsible for tracking down suspects and apprehending them. The evidence the lab worker uncovers will be used by other law enforcement professionals to do those tasks.

Physical evidence is essential in proving that an individual is guilty of committing a crime. Prosecutors or defense attorneys may put witnesses on the stand and present circumstantial evidence during a trial. However, witnesses do not always prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the suspect was at the crime scene. Attorneys often need absolute physical evidence to successfully argue a case. It is imperative that lab workers follow chain of evidence protocols. The suggestion that evidence was tampered with or not properly stored can cause a case to be thrown out of court.

Lab workers analyze trace evidence found at the crime scene. Trace evidence results from different things touching one another. Hairs, fibers, insects, soil residue, plant material, and even cosmetics are examples. A lab worker may discover that soil found at the crime scene is only located in one area of the city. After reviewing a list of the victim's associates, he discovers one person lives in that area. He may have just discovered who committed the crime.

Workers use DNA testing to examine any bodily fluids and blood evidence found at the crime scene. Toxicology testing and fingerprint analysis will be performed. These results are run through a series of local, state, and federal databases to see if a potential match can be found. Weapons have their own ballistic fingerprints. When a weapon is fired, certain marks are left on the bullets. Lab workers look at the bullets and any casings found to narrow down the weapon used at the crime scene.

These jobs are not just about analyzing evidence. Lab technicians are required to prepare reports on their findings, laboratory procedures, and research methods. Often, these workers are called to testify during trials to describe the evidence they uncovered and the methods that were used.

To be successful in this job, you will need to have a solid understanding of forensic science, chemistry, and biology. Critical reasoning and thinking skills, an understanding of criminal procedures, and strong communication skills are essential too.

Educational Requirements

Crime labs have different educational requirements based on the job duties that need to be performed. If you are looking for an entry-level position, an associate's degree in criminology might be enough to find work. However, your opportunities for advancement will be slim. Today, crime lab workers need to have a broad understanding of both forensic science and criminology . A bachelor's degree is becoming essential to landing crime lab jobs that can eventually lead to advancement opportunities. Very few criminal justice jobs require advanced degrees. However, an advanced degree may be required to become a manager or director of a crime lab.

Most crime labs also require their employees to participate in continuing education classes, seminars, or workshops. New techniques to analyze evidence, new scientific equipment, and advances in computer software programs are constantly being developed. Labs must stay current on these new trends to make sure their employees are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Job Outlook and Salary Potential

The majority of crime lab jobs are found in local, state, and federal agencies. However, there are also opportunities at independent labs across the country. Competition for these jobs is very strong. Whether it is the C.S.I. affect or a person's desire to see justice done, it is not uncommon for hundreds of applicants to apply for just one open crime lab position.

The federal government estimates that job growth in this field will be faster than average. Over the next ten years, the government anticipates a 20% increase in job growth as more and more agencies turn to forensic science. Salaries are determined by location, type of agency, and experience level. More education leads to higher-paying crime lab jobs. The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the average salary for a crime lab worker is $55,070 a year.

Last Updated: 04/29/2014