Crime Scene Technologist


Mar 01, 2006 Print Article

Crime Scene Technicians (CST) are essentially functional generalists who collect and maintain physical evidence from crime scenes. The technology of crime scene investigation is very advanced; however, the technology (hardware, software and forensic analysis) is located in the “Forensics Laboratory” rather than in the field. Field technology is generally photographic equipment (and video) and specimen collection. Field technology is a combination of specific techniques for locating evidence, collecting evidence, preserving evidence, maintaining the custody of evidence and in some cases analyzing evidence. Technology advancements using “telerobotics” for “teleforensics” are on the horizon. For example, the El Paso Police Department is using CSTs, robotics and video surveillance to avoid contamination of the crime scene and to enable remote experts to view crime scenes and provide advice to CSTs for the collection of crime scene evidence.[1. www.sandia.gov/LabNews/LN11-26-04/labnews11-26-04.pdf]

In the past two decades, crime scene technology has not advanced as much as lab technology. Lab advancements in chemistry and biology have resulted in new methods of DNA analysis, trace evidence analysis and toxicology.1

Field technologies involve specialized techniques which are dependent on human knowledge, skill and training applicable to CTCs in some Texas regions. CST technology revolves around photographic equipment and specimen collection (fingerprint, hair, finger nails, fluids, etc.) Advanced technology and analysis tends to be associated with highly specialized forensics scientists who work in forensics laboratories rather than with CST discipline.

Employability

“Crime Scene Technicians or Technologists (CST) provides support services to all aspects of crime scene investigation including processing, photographing, collecting and maintaining evidence, testifying in court and preparing investigative reports.”2 A major aspect of CST responsibilities involves establishing and maintaining records to ensure proper chain of custody of physical evidence.

CSTs can be employed by Local, State and Federal law enforcement agencies, Public Defenders’ Offices, Medical Examiners’ Offices, law firms and private industry;3 however, law enforcement is the single largest employer. According to David Brumfield approximately 50% of the Crime Scene Technology graduates of the Southeastern Public Safety Institute in Florida go on to “civilian” jobs in law enforcement and 50% work in related fields but not directly for law enforcement.4 Brumfield also indicates that Florida may soon face an over capacity of CST certified professionals due to the popularity of CSI-type TV shows and the resulting explosion of interest in the field over the past six years.

The employment need of Texas law enforcement and other domains is undetermined. Texas law enforcement agencies have different policies related to educational requirements for CSTs and different policies related to whether the duties can be performed by civilians or not. For example, the San Antonio Police Department allows civilians to be CSTs; however, they require a Bachelors Degree (in any discipline, but preferably a Forensics or Science Degree).5 The Houston Police Department (HPD) requires police officers to collect physical evidence and to maintain the chain of custody;6 however, HPD only allows “expert civilians” from the Forensics Laboratory to assist when needed.7 HPD requires Forensics Technicians to have a Bachelors Degree (minimum).

CST in Texas is characterized by low to moderate growth projected, little positive strategic growth projected for this position and much uncertainty associated with professional qualifications required by CSTs across Texas cities and counties. Watch for new regulations, state policy changes and especially emergence of state-wide certification and accreditation standards.

Trends

Trends include:

  • Much variation from state-to-state, county-to-county and city-to-city related to credentials required for CSTs. Some states have flip-flopped on policy related to whether civilians can do this work three times in the past ten years. (see footnote 5 and 6)
  • In the past 10 years, Texas has flip-flopped between policy requiring police officers to perform CSTs duties and allowing civilians to perform CST duties. As a result, some law enforcement entities maintain a balance of both law enforcement and civilian personnel to perform these duties (as is the case in San Antonio) (see footnote 6) or they simply require law enforcement personnel and make no allowance for civilians except when highly specialized expertise is required from the Forensics Laboratory (as is the case in Houston). (see footnote 8)
  • Employment concentration of CSTs in Texas is in Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio and Austin.
  • Most training for CSTs in Texas is handled by police departments and is accredited by the Texas Commission on law enforcement Standards and Education. (see footnote 6)
  • CSI TV shows have created a boom for the position in places such as Florida where approximately 90% of the CSTs are female. (see footnote 5)

CSTs will be needed as long as there is crime; however, the fluctuating policy on whether this position is open to civilians limits the growth of the field for civilians (especially in Texas). Law enforcement entities may be good partners for specialized certificates for law enforcement officers or candidates; however, further investigation is required.

Timing

Preliminary analysis indicates that timing is not good for a broad study of the technology and workforce demand related to CST. However, localized demand should be investigated on a city-by-city basis by community and technical college (CTC) faculty or staff (especially in Texas’ large MSAs). Furthermore, a request should be made to the Texas Workforce Commission to track this position in the Labor Market Indices separate and distinct from law enforcement and forensics jobs.

Relevance

The relevance of CSTs to CTCs is moderate and functionally dependent on 1) the geographic location of the CTC, 2) policy determining whether the position is open to civilians, 3) policy of educational attainment required for the position and 4) policy determining who certifies Law Enforcement Officers to be CTCs. There are two CTC certificates in Houston at San Jacinto College (Central and North campus) primarily motivated by the need for a Forensics transfer program to a Master’s Degree at Sam Houston State College.8 The two certificates are:9

San Jacinto College District — Central Campus CRIMINAL JUSTICE/POLICE SCIENCE – 43.0107 Certificate of Technology Specialty – Criminal Justice Crime Scene Technician Sept. 1, 2003. 2 semester program. Robyn Ring, 281-476-1873.

San Jacinto College District — North Campus CRIMINAL JUSTICE/POLICE SCIENCE – 43.0107 Crime Scene Technician Specialty. Sept. 1, 2003. William Edison, 281-998-6150 x7346.

Skill Sets

Specific Duties, Knowledge, Skills and Abilities include: Duties – photographs crime and accident scenes using highly-skilled photographic and evidence-gathering techniques; identifies, collects and secures physical evidence including: blood, body fluids, hair, fibers and firearms for laboratory testing and use as evidence in criminal prosecutions; searches for and develops latent prints at crime scenes; photographs and fingerprints suspects, victims (including deceased individuals), witnesses and applicants; produces castings of footprints, tire tracks and other impressions; and testifies in court; 10 Knowledge – A working knowledge of all basic tenets in crime scene technology encompassed in the phases of crime scene search, recording, evidence gathering, packaging of evidence and courtroom testimony; Skills – Basic skills in English, Math, Science and Speech; Abilities – Because of the confidential, sensitive nature of work required, potential employers may require some or all of the following criteria as part of their employment process: physical agility, background investigations, drug screening, oral board interview, polygraph and/or voice stress analysis, physical examination and U.S. Citizenship.11 CSTs may also be required to qualify to use protective respirator equipment. CST work requires exposure to hazardous chemicals and evidence that may be biohazardous or carcinogenic. (see footnote 3)

Transportability: Civilian CTCs are functionally generalists. CTC skills are applicable to other specialized positions if the CST pursues continuing education, specialized certification and/or an advanced University Degree (Bachelors, Masters and/ PhD). With advanced education and certification, opportunities for advancement include positions such as Fingerprint Classification Specialist, Crime Lab Assistant, Investigator, Consultant, Juvenile Assessment Worker, Latent Print Examiner/Trainee, Fire Inspector/Investigator, Forensic Science Specialist and Property and Evidence Personnel; however, this type of advancement from CST to positions requiring advanced education are limited and rare. (see footnote 2) Opportunities for advancement are also available for “the field” as opposed to laboratory positions – typically involving a pathway toward certification as a law enforcement Officer and at the far-end of the spectrum as a Detective (cross-over from civilian CST to classified law enforcement is also rare). Advancement opportunities are dependent on the CSTs ability to be certified as a law enforcement Officer or to gain an advanced scientific and/or technological certification and/or degree. The CST position could be a gateway position; however, policy, culture and systemic transformation within law enforcement are required.

Key Performance Indicators

Recommendation: A detailed analysis of this topic is not warranted at this time.

Jobs: No positive strategic growth projected for this position. Much uncertainty associated with professional qualifications for CSTs required by various Texas cities and counties.

Trends: Variations in policy related to police versus civilian employment; training primarily provided by police departments; popularized by CSI TV shows.

Timing: There does not appear to be a broad demand for CST curriculum. CST curriculum may be indicated for programs serving localized needs and transfer programs related to higher degree attainment in Forensics disciplines.

Relevance: Relevance to colleges varies depending on local and regional law enforcement certification requirements and policies related to whether civilians are allowed perform CST duties and responsibilities.

Transportability: Applicable to other specialized positions with specialized certification and/or an advanced university degree; however, career advancement from civilian CST to forenics or to law enforcement is rare.

  1. Dean Wideman, certified forensic consultant and expert witness, San Antonio, TX, Interview by Brazell
  2. www.crime-scene-investigator.net/JOB-0512-09.html
  3. www.spcollege.edu/webcentral/acad/crimeas.htm
  4. David Brumfield, Instructor, Southeast Public Safety Institute, FL. Interview by Brazell
  5. Sargent James Estrada, San Antonio Police Department, TX. Interview by Brazell
  6. Detective Connie Park, Houston Police Department, TX. Interview by Brazell
  7. Raden Hiliman, Houston Forensics Laboratory, TX. Interview by Brazell
  8. www2.sjcd.edu/reddot/sjc_capp.cfm?sProgram=4CRIJ-CSTS
  9. Workforce Education Inventory Access and Update  www.thecb.state.tx.us/AAR/UndergraduateEd/WorkforceEd/inventory/
  10. www.crime-scene-investigator.net/JOBDSC08.pdf
  11. www.edison.edu/catalog/as_programs/crime_scene_technology.pdf
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