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What is a Crime Scene Investigator?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) is a professional who is trained to analyze crime scenes, collect evidence, process that evidence, and return reports which can be used by law enforcement officials and members of governments. The requirements for this job vary widely, depending on the organization doing the hiring and national standards. In some regions, crime scene investigators are also sworn law enforcement officers, with the ability to arrest suspects and pursue various leads in the case, while others are civilians who have more limited abilities.

Most crime scene investigators work either for a law enforcement agency or a company which needs trained investigators, such as an insurance agency which might send an investigator to the site of a car accident to determine whether or not the insurance agency will pay for the accident. Typically, an organization has a tiered system for CSIs, just like the system used for law enforcement. Each CSI must have different qualifications to reach various tiers; the more qualified, the more money he or she can potentially make.

In the lab, a crime scene investigator can process evidence to lift fingerprints and gather information about the site of the crime. For example, a CSI might look for hair, skin, or fiber samples so that a case can be built up against a suspect. He or she might also use various techniques to lift fingerprints from evidence so that these fingerprints can be used in the course of the investigation. Some CSIs actually specialize specifically in fingerprints, and they pride themselves on being able to lift fingerprints from almost anything.

In the field, the investigator secures a crime scene to ensure that no evidence is compromised. He or she collects any and all evidence which might have a bearing on the case, and the CSI is also responsible for maintaining a chain of custody for the evidence to ensure that it is not compromised between the field and the lab. Some field investigators specialize in forensic photography, documenting crime scenes with the assistance of a camera; many CSIs use very high quality digital cameras so that they can instantly check on photo quality and take additional shots if needed.

Working conditions for a crime scene investigator can be tough. CSIs are often on-call, meaning that they can be called out to a crime scene at any time. The job can also be emotionally grinding or very frustrating. Many CSIs spend a lot of time on their feet and a fair amount of time driving, and they must also be prepared to testify in court, and sometimes to defend their findings against various challenges. The position can also, of course, be very rewarding when a criminal is brought to justice.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon308701 — On Dec 12, 2012

It was a good article, but I wish there was more information on skills needed, job responsibilities, etc.

By anon246485 — On Feb 09, 2012

This article was very helpful! It gave me insight into what CSIs do, and the "good/bad" parts of the job. Thanks!

By anon157336 — On Mar 02, 2011

This article was really helpful in my school project. i got all of my information here, so i did not have to surf the net forever! thanks.

By anon146913 — On Jan 27, 2011

very interesting. i just learned a couple new things that i did not know.

By anon146371 — On Jan 26, 2011

This helped a lot knowing about different fields in CSI.

By anon132632 — On Dec 07, 2010

This article has helped me understand all the things crime scene investigators really have to do, and what they must go through.

By anon109891 — On Sep 09, 2010

this helped me better understand what CSI's do. I think it would be sweet to be able to work in a lab, and lift finger prints, and work at a crime scene. I find it interesting that CSI's have many tasks within their jobs, and they have smaller jobs within their main one. Pretty cool.

By anon82760 — On May 07, 2010

This helped me understand what CSI's do.

By anon81010 — On Apr 29, 2010

My name is Celeste I can't wait to grow up and continue studying on being a CSI. This is my passion. I love solving problems and traveling. This article was good and helped me a lot on what I needed to know. Thank you, article writer.

By anon80811 — On Apr 28, 2010

i think this helped me a lot for my paper on what is my dream career.

By anon72213 — On Mar 22, 2010

It was a good article that told me that different states have different regulations on what they can do.

By anon68414 — On Mar 02, 2010

The article was very helpful to me. I watch csi and as I was reading the article I felt like I was watching it.

By anon65903 — On Feb 16, 2010

this helped me a lot for what i have to do. thanks.

By anon64625 — On Feb 08, 2010

I always wanted to work in the forensic science field because of watching (csi) and Criminal Minds, but I didn't know it would take all this work. T.V. makes it look more easy and understanding but when it comes to real life its more difficult.

By anon63368 — On Feb 01, 2010

it was good.

By anon63364 — On Feb 01, 2010

I did not know a lot of what is on there. I never watched the CSI shows or anything so all of this is new to me.

By anon63363 — On Feb 01, 2010

this article was pretty helpful if you want a job like this.

By anon63362 — On Feb 01, 2010

Well, that was a lot of things that i did not know and it helped out a lot.

By anon59135 — On Jan 06, 2010

This article was very helpful. I took notes and now I feel like I really know about this.

By anon58212 — On Dec 30, 2009

I am a 13 year old and i would to be a CSI for my future. And at this age right now i am already looking up stuff and CSI.

By anon55304 — On Dec 06, 2009

This article is very helpful. I have a full understanding of what a CSI is now. Thanks to this article, I will successfully make an A on my project.

By anon54320 — On Nov 29, 2009

This article was great! It actually explained the other jobs of a CSI investigator.

By anon46682 — On Sep 28, 2009

This really helped with my online classes learning about Crime Scene Investigators. :)

By anon45169 — On Sep 14, 2009

this article helped me understand in depth what a crime scene investigator does, exactly.

By chinniehoney — On May 11, 2009

What are the things you can get from being a Crime Scene Investigator?

By anon23850 — On Jan 03, 2009

This helped a lot! Thanks!

By anon17604 — On Sep 02, 2008

I felt that this article was very useful to anyone who wants basic information about crime scene investigation. Thank You!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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