What Does CSI Do

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 3 minute read

According to the famous television shows about crime, you’d think that all police agencies had a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) team.

Of the top-paying companies, local governments, and state governments where forensic science technicians are employed, only a small number are really referred to as such by the formal word for their employment. 

Many police departments in the United States do not have their own in-house CSI team and those that do typically struggle to keep up with the increasing demand for evidence testing and analysis.

Employment Statistics Relating to CSI

According to the Office of Justice Programs, Many law enforcement agencies have some type of crime scene processing program, but it doesn’t always indicate that these agencies have a crime scene investigation team. 

In some cases, it may simply indicate that the local police agency has a procedure in place to collect and preserve physical evidence at the site of an incident.

A full-time crime scene investigator is employed by less than 5% of all law enforcement departments in the United States.

Typically, crime scene investigation is a part-time or occasional responsibility in the great majority of U.S. police agencies.

Forensic science technicians have a very bright future in their field, despite what the stats would suggest at first appearance.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects a substantially greater than average rate of job growth – 14 percent – for this career path, compared to an anticipated 5 percent growth rate projected for all occupations. 

Figures such as this one would lead you to assume that the demand for CSIs is much more than it actually is.

Forensic science technician is a tiny occupation as it is, employing just 16,700 individuals throughout the US, so even that double-digit growth rate will only bring a 2,400 increase in employment prospects.

More than half 59% of forensic science technicians work for local government organizations including police departments.

Another 28% of job possibilities are provided by state and local governments, which are in second and third place, respectively.

Employment at CSI by Location

Finding work as a full-time criminal investigator may or may not be feasible depending on your current location of the search.

Forensic science technicians are more frequently found in densely populated areas with high crime rates. 

In terms of employment in this industry, the most populous cities are:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania tri-state area
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, in the Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia area
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida

A CSI unit in a small town is not only less common than one in a major city, but those that do exist frequently lack the high-tech equipment that larger CSI units have.

Often, this lack of CSI resources is not due to a lack of enthusiasm, but rather to funding limits.

As a result, investigators in these regions may have to make do with fewer pieces of information.

Bringing in the CSI team to study every crime scene may not be possible in small communities since the crime scene investigation units that do exist tend to have smaller personnel, fewer funds, and fewer resources. 

Offenses involving violence or murder, as well as burglary or robbery of significant value, are often the only crimes that are examined.

If you want to work as a police officer in an area without a specialized crime scene investigation unit, you might look into becoming a detective with a police department that has a CSI unit. 

This is a more typical route to a crime scene investigation than you may anticipate. There are many CSI crime labs out there, but they aren’t all set up in the same way as a CSI crime lab would be.

According to the International Crime Scene Investigators Association, very few of the nation’s more than 18,000 police departments employ a full-time civilian CSI — that is, a person who is not a sworn officer.

\You need to be aware that even this officer/analyst position is not like the CSI life you see on television.

So instead of obsessing over the evidence in your most exciting new investigation while neglecting everything else, you’re dealing with an ever-growing backlog of cases, maybe in addition to more routine law enforcement tasks.

Forensic science technicians in California have more than 2,000 employees, yet 10 states in the United States still employ less than 100 of these individuals.

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