There were 12,440 forensic scientists – or CSIs – working in the United States as of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. CSIs – or crime scene investigators – take photos and collect evidence at crime scenes, including fingerprints, body fluids and weapons. They then bag their evidence and catalog it for further analyses in labs. Some CSIs perform the analyses in labs, and then identify suspects based on scientific evidence. If you want to work in this field, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree in forensic science. In return, expect to earn over $55,000 annually.
Salary and Qualifications
Crime scene investigators earned average annual salaries of $55,730 as of May 2012, according to the BLS. If you were among the top 10 percent in earnings, you'd make over $85,210 annually. To become a CSI, you need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in forensic science or one of the natural sciences: biology or chemistry, for example. The exception is if you live in a rural area, where a high school diploma and extensive coursework in mathematics, biology, chemistry and other sciences may qualify you. Employers may also prefer that you have one or more years of experience in forensic science. Other key qualifications include attention to detail, composure, and critical-thinking, problem-solving, writing and speaking skills.
Salary by Industry
A crime scene investigator may earn higher salaries in certain industries. They earned the highest salaries of $94,800 working for the federal executive branch of the government in 2012, based on BLS data. Their salaries were also relatively high in medical diagnostics laboratories and at local government agencies – $66,390 and $55,950 per year, respectively. If you worked for a local government agency as a CSI, you'd earn $51,100 annually. Your salary in a psychiatric or substance abuse hospital would be $41,200.
Salary by State
In 2012, crime scene investigators earned the highest salaries of $73,010 per year in Washington, D.C., reports the BLS. They also earned above-average salaries in California and Michigan – $72,000 and $70,650, respectively. If you worked as a CSI in Michigan, you'd earn $54,930 annually. In Florida or Utah, your salary would $8,000 to $10,000 less at $46,850 and $44,630, respectively.
The BLS projects a 19 percent increase in jobs for forensic scientists – or crime scene investigators – through 2020, which is statistically about average compared to the 14 percent growth rate for all jobs. A growing awareness of forensic evidence for solving crimes should increase job opportunities for these law enforcement agents in the next 10 years. Police departments and government agencies will also need more CSIs to deliver timely analyses for various crimes and murders.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Forensic Science Technicians Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Forensic Science Technicians
- International Crime Scene Investigator Association: How to Become a CSI
- Trade Schools in California: Crime Scene Investigator - Job Description, Schools, Salary and Career Outlook
- CriminalJusticeProfiles.org: Crime Scene Investigator
- U.S. Department of Justice: Crime Scene Investigation
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images