Forensic Practitioner: Job Description and Education Requirements
Forensic practitioners, also referred to as crime scene investigators and forensic science technicians, examine pieces of evidence to provide crucial support in criminal investigations. Their professional expertise is sought in laboratories, crime scenes and courtrooms.
Job Descriptions of Forensic Practitioners
Forensic practitioners collect, analyze and record evidence to aid in criminal investigations. They use details drawn from fingerprints, bodily fluids, footprints and ballistics samples to form a series of possible conclusions for crime scenes. They are also responsible for analyzing hair, blood splatter or DNA. Much of their analysis takes place in a laboratory setting with access to analytical software and criminal databases.
These professionals often serve as expert witnesses for criminal cases that go to trial. Proper collection and storage of evidence is essential for their findings to hold up in a court of law. Forensic practitioners must also document their conclusions adhering to approved procedures and laws. They typically possess a specialty in one area of expertise such as toxicology, DNA analysis or weapons examination. As forensic techniques and technological capabilities evolve, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected average job growth in forensics from 2010-2020, with 19% growth expected during that time (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median salary for forensic science technicians as of May 2012 was $52,840.
Education Requirements of Forensic Practitioners
Most forensic practitioners need a bachelor's degree, preferably in forensic science or another natural science. Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science programs can be completed in about four years and must be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (www.aafs.org). Students will explore topics in genetic sequencing, evidence collection, biochemistry, bloodstain analysis, criminal justice and anatomy. Some bachelor's degree programs require students to analyze mock crime scenes and complete forensics internships.
Master of Science in Forensic Science programs typically take two years to complete, although some institutions have fast track options where talented students can earn a bachelor's degree in natural science and their master's degree in five years. While not required for entry-level positions, such advanced degree programs are research intensive and provide further opportunities for forensic practitioners to develop a specialty and network with current professionals.
Specialized voluntary certifications are also available in the field for forensic practitioners. Certifications are available through the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the American Board of Criminalistics. Candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree and some experience in the field.
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