Crime scene investigators need keen observation and problem-solving skills for their scientific, investigative work with the police

As a crime scene investigator, you'll be involved in securing and protecting crime scenes, and collecting evidence from crime scenes, post-mortems and other incidents, such as fires and suspicious deaths.

You'll also be responsible for processing and categorising evidence, so that it can be used in criminal investigations. This might include gathering photographic evidence or physical samples from the scene, such as weapons, fingerprints, clothing or biological evidence.

Crime scene investigators are sometimes known as scenes of crime officers or forensic scene investigators.

Responsibilities

As a crime scene investigator, you'll need to:

  • respond to calls from the police to attend crime scenes
  • preserve a crime scene so that evidence is accurate and doesn't become contaminated
  • work closely with the police (including the Counter Terrorist Unit and the British Transport Police), forensic scientists and other organisations such as the National Crime Agency
  • take a lead in finding evidence that may support a later criminal case
  • photograph and video the incident you're attending
  • use scientific methods to gather biological evidence
  • carefully record and catalogue evidence found at the crime scene such as samples of blood, hair or fibres from clothing
  • examine crime scenes for latent finger impressions
  • take imprints of evidence, such as footprints or tyre prints
  • write reports
  • attend court to give evidence as part of a trial process.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for crime scene investigators are between £16,000 and £24,000, plus allowances.
  • Experienced crime scene investigators or crime scene managers can earn between £24,000 and £33,000, plus allowances.
  • Senior crime scene investigators take on greater responsibility and manage the work of others. They can earn higher salaries of £30,000 to £40,000 or more.

Employees can also benefit from the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time working hours are around 30 to 40 hours per week. Hours of work are on a shift pattern, as you'll need to respond to calls from the police to attend scenes of crime 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round.

Senior crime scene investigators and managers often work more regular hours without the need to work evenings and weekends.

Part time, job sharing and flexible working hours are available in various forms across police forces in the UK.

What to expect

  • You may attend incidents that can be upsetting and will need to be able to focus on the task despite difficult circumstances.
  • The work is likely to be varied and you'll need to be prepared to expect the unexpected. A lot of your time will be spent out at the location of the scene which is under investigation, but you'll come back to the police station to store evidence and write reports of your findings.
  • You'll need to be prepared to work in different environments and will have to travel to incident scenes. At times, this will involve being in all weathers and in difficult and maybe hostile situations.
  • Evidence must be handled with care and prepared for the forensic team to run laboratory tests. It's vital that the time and place details are recorded accurately before evidence is passed to the lab for processing.
  • To do well in the role, you'll need to be passionate about providing a service to the public and understand the needs of different communities.

Qualifications

You'll usually need at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including maths, English and science, as well as an A-level in a laboratory-based science subject.

It isn't mandatory to have a degree to be a crime scene investigator, but most recent applicants are graduates and this is more commonly becoming a deciding factor for employers during selection. A degree in one of the following subjects could be advantageous:

  • forensic science
  • biological science
  • chemistry
  • criminology
  • psychology.

You can complete specific qualifications to be a crime scene investigator, such as those offered by the College of Policing. These can be undertaken at the police force you work for.

A qualification in digital media such as photography could also be helpful, as you'll need to gather photographic evidence and film at incidents you attend.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • a careful and methodical approach to your work and be able to prioritise and take appropriate action
  • good attention to detail and keen observational skills for finding and recording evidence
  • strong analytical skills and an inquisitive approach
  • the ability to work in a team and to coordinate well with other professionals
  • the patience to be able to correctly catalogue and store evidence
  • good written communication in order to write up reports accurately, for being presented in court if necessary
  • good verbal communication skills, as you'll need to communicate with victims, witnesses and investigators in criminal investigations
  • technical ability to use digital and scientific equipment
  • the capacity to stay calm under pressure and to cope with sometimes distressing situations
  • motivation and be able to work on your own initiative, as well as by following instruction
  • the ability to follow set procedures and processes when submitting evidence for consideration
  • a respect for confidentiality at all times and a trustworthy nature
  • an understanding of health and safety guidelines and the diligence to follow these at all times, and those set through the Forensic Submissions Policy
  • a flexible approach, with the ability to adapt to alternative approaches for solving problems
  • integrity and the commitment to uphold the values and ethical standards of the police service
  • good physical fitness and accurate colour vision
  • good IT skills - for using Microsoft Office programs, such as Word and Excel, and for using a forensic case management system
  • a full driving licence, to get to incidents quickly when you're on call.

Work experience

It isn't easy to find work experience specifically in the role of a crime scene investigator. This is primarily due to vetting and health and safety requirements, and the importance of being fully trained before being given the responsibility of collecting evidence that could be used in a court of law.

Related work experience with the police is definitely advantageous and you can gain this in a number of ways, including working as a special police officer, as a volunteer or via an internship program that might start to expose you to the tasks involved in scenes of crime work.

Other related areas you could gain experience in are intelligence gathering and analysis, security services or with a private forensic service provider (FSP).

Experience of working with the public is also important, particularly as you may be working with people in sensitive situations.

Employers

Most scenes of crimes officers in the UK are employed in the public sector by individual police forces around the country.

Look for vacancies at:

Recent graduates can apply for the police either directly through vacancies advertised on their website, or through the Police Now graduate scheme.

Freelance work is not common in this area of work and recruitment is unlikely to be through a recruitment agency.

Professional development

Once you're working as a crime scene investigator, you'll receive further training in some of the specific methods used for collecting and cataloguing evidence. You'll also be offered opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD).

CPD is important to keep your skills up to date, as there are constant technical advances in forensic methods. More recently there is a need for greater use of technology in reviewing evidence and in dealing with newer issues, such as cybercrime.

You can work towards professional certification by completing training courses such as Crime Scene Investigator or Crime Scene Manager.

You'll need to work to standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator and within the Forensic Quality Management framework.

Career prospects

Police forces usually have a structure which allows for progression within your role. You might be able to progress to a more senior level and take on extra management responsibilities in a team.

You can progress to the roles of crime scene manager, crime scene coordinator, and senior crime scene investigator.