Criminalistics pertains to forensic sciences and the methods forensic technicians and investigators use to solve crimes. If you enjoy math, science and want to use your skills to assist in catching people who commit theft, arson, murder or other crimes, criminalistics could be for you. Continue reading to learn about the academic requirements for this field and some career opportunities available to you.
Criminalistics is an area of forensic science that involves analyzing and interpreting evidence recovered from a crime scene. Criminalists, including crime scene investigators and forensic scientists, search for and collect evidence that will shed light on the crime committed. They use this evidence to recreate the crime scene, find DNA, determine what firearms were used, draw conclusions and present the evidence in court.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals interested in working in forensic science should be curious and perseverant, enjoy math and science, and have good communication skills (www.bls.gov). They should also be organized, think clearly and pay close attention to details. The BLS states that aspiring forensic scientists acquire skills or pursue specializations in evidence analysis, toxicology, biology, chemistry, document examination, firearms identification, lie detection and fingerprinting.
According to the BLS, about 12,390 individuals worked as forensic science technicians in 2010. It projected that between 2008 and 2018 the employment of forensic scientists would increase by 20%. This is partially because technology and scientific developments provide more ways to use evidence and DNA analysis to solve crimes. As of May 2010, the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $51,570, according to the BLS.
Criminalistics and forensic science degree programs are available at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree level. Through undergraduate degree programs you'll explore topics such as fingerprinting, blood stain analysis, computer crimes and criminal justice courses that further address studies in crime scene investigation, evidence handling and arson. You'll take math and science courses, including chemistry, biology, physics and statistics, and explore their practical applications in forensics. With a bachelor's degree in forensic science, you could pursue a career as a forensic technician or continue your studies to earn a graduate degree in criminalistics, forensics or another field. You could also pursue a career as a police officer, detective, patrol officer, security guide or crime scene investigator.
Through graduate degree programs in forensic sciences, criminalistics or criminal justice with a specialization in forensics, you may learn how to handle and store evidence, analyze the chemical breakdown of controlled substances, reconstruct crime scenes and use DNA analysis to solve crimes. Other courses may cover methods for analyzing patterns, identifying firearms and profiling criminals, as well as cover ethical issues relating to crime scene investigation and advanced math and science subjects. This can lead to a career as a forensic scientist, engaging in forensics research or teaching at a community college.
You can earn certification from the American Board of Criminalistics if you have at least a bachelor's degree and two years of experience (www.criminalistics.com). To earn certification, you must pass an exam that tests your basic forensic skills, including photography, DNA, trace evidence, firearms, explosives, drug analysis and crime scene reconstruction. This certification can lead to higher salaries, more career opportunities and more responsibilities.