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What is it like working as an CSI ? What's something nice about working there?

This is something I want to study but I'm not sure if I'm able to manage to see all the crime, but I think I can handle it at the same time. What is some experience you had seeing all these crimes? Did you get used to it? What was the worst crime you've seen?

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Michelle’s Answer

Crime Scene Investigators see and work on a lot of different crimes. Most scenes will not be gross, bloody and smelly, but depending on the size of the population and the crime rate, you might handle a lot. I am a CSI with a smaller agency in El Paso, TX (which borders with Mexico and New Mexico). I work for the Sheriff's Office out in the county. We also have a Police Department that handles crime in the city of El Paso. The police do handle a bit more than the Sheriff's Office when it comes to major crimes.

So CSIs handle calls for service from burglaries, robberies, criminal mischiefs which are more property based crimes, to crimes against persons. It is the crimes against people where the more gruesome and tragic scenes fall under. We go to suicides, unattended death (people who die at home for an unknown reason), homicides, rapes and vehicle fatalities. All of these types of crimes are traumatic for family and friends of the victims. So being respectful of their concerns and situations is a must. But seeing violence, injury, and death can take a toll on you. I have been doing this for 14 and half years, and I still love what I do. I might just not be able to physically handle some scenes (as I am the oldest CSI in our section). These scene are difficult for several reasons: 1. the trauma/ injury to the victims can be terrible; 2. death is not pretty in any way, however, a recent death is not so bad as a decomposing body - with the smells, and what happens to the body; 3. death scenes can be peaceful (as when an elder person dies in their sleep) but it can also be very graphic (as in homicides, suicides and fatalities (vehicle or pedestrian).

Having a great support system (family, friends, co-workers, or even professional help) is a must in this line of work. You experience tragedy, and some people can handle it (like me) and others can't (even some officers or deputies don't like these scenes). You have to know if you can handle this before going into it. You will see blood, mangled bodies, body parts, gruesome injuries and go to autopsies where the investigate the body for injuries, causes of death and other medical information. Seeing a body cut up and dissected is also not everyone's cup of tea. But it is part of the duties. Bodies smell different at autopsy...as the insides will smell more than the outsides. And you will have to handle the bodies, to collect evidence, fingerprint them for identification and maybe even help move them from the positions they are found to the ground for transport (out of vehicle, canals, ditches, hanging, etc.). I have even helped collect brain tissue, organs and blood when the body is getting prepped for transport.

Look into interning at the Medical Examiner's Office or with the local crime scene unit, to be sure you can handle the smell, situations and types of crimes a Crime Scene Investigator will handle, is always a good place. Take Criminal Justice courses, or Forensics courses that discuss crime scene investigation. You could also do ride-a-longs with your local police or Sheriff's departments. But the ride-a-longs will not have you at scenes like the major calls outs.

No one gets used to crime, every scene is different. Having support to handle what comes up, is crucial to surviving and not letting it consume you. Being mentally stable and grounded is good. Most of us have a dark side, but we don't let it take over, and we use comedy and other fun things so we can handle the bad and get through it on the job. All of my co-workers choose to be in this line of work, and we do a great job of handling what we see frequently, that most other people would never image seeing. The same is said about nurses, EMTs and Fire personnel. We handle this on a daily basis, and very few have trouble dealing with it. We manage, but we know when to seek help if it gets really bad.

Best of luck to you. I hope I answered your questions. I could not go into full details about what we see, but it is graphic, and I know that if you like this career, you can handle it.
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Monte W.’s Answer

As a crime scene investigator you are the finder of facts. Engaging in this career field involves many requirements as well as sacrifices. To be sure this is a field you wish to pursue before you commit to an educational pathway, you should see if this is the right fit for you.

My recommendations include contacting your local police department and inquire if there would be an opportunity to take a ride-along with their CSI unit. If you do not meet the requirements for a ride-along, you may ask if their is anyone assigned to their CSI unit willing to discuss their work, education and the pathway they chose to attain their position and to provide you with a possible tour of their facility. If you are of age and able, you may want to contact your local Medical Examiner's Office and inquire about a tour of the facility, the opportunity to observe an autopsy and the ability to speak to an investigator.

These recommendations will help you determine if the career pathway to crime scene investigator is right for you and if you are able to be around and cope with death. Post secondary educations are expensive so having a lock on your career pathway will help you keep costs down. I always recommend to anyone seeking a career in law enforcement to have a back up plan, that is attain a fallback in your post secondary education like adding a second major or even a teaching credential.

Now back to the requirements and sacrifices. The requirements for crime scene investigator vary from state to state and department to department, but the one constant is education. Most departments and all federal agencies require a college degree, whether that is an AA, a bachelors degree or an advanced degree. Most agencies require no less than 60 credit hours of a true science within that degree choice, if not a degree in science like biology, chemistry, anthropology, physics etc. When choosing this career there will be many sacrifices associated with it. Some of those sacrifices are diminished family time, shift work, long hours, harsh environmental conditions, dangers associated with the job, exposure to all things negative in life and exposure to death on a regular basis. The sacrifices can be overwhelming at times, so you need to make sure this is a career you want for 20 plus years.

To answer your other questions, this is a career that will take a toll on you. The negative aspects can be overwhelming at times but the rewards of doing good work and helping the overall investigation reach its final conclusion is very satisfying. Everyone in this profession develops coping skills to deal with all of the negatives, I can't say the things you will see and experience will ever be forgotten, but you do learn to cope. I'm also not sure you ever get used to what you have to be exposed to, but I do believe the rewards of your work help and the more cases you work and the advance training you receive does help you acclimate to the job.

I cannot pinpoint the worst thing I have ever seen, as most violent crime is as bad as it gets. I won't sugar coat the career, it is exciting, rewarding, monotonous, boring, disturbing, all time consuming and mind numbing at times, but it is needed and those persons who have the fortitude for it will love the challenge and stay the course for 20 years plus.

Good luck on what ever profession you chose, education is the key and your will is the drive.
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Yvette’s Answer


You might wonder what it's like to work as a CSI. What is it about working there that appeals to you? I believe that CSI has made significant contributions to medico-legal death investigations. Working as a CSI has many incentives, aside from the dream that most people see on TV. Like any other job involving proving evidence correctly, it must be carried out with the utmost honesty, teamwork, and confidence. The primary objectives are to identify innocent persons and hold abusers or criminals accountable. CSI jobs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of the responsibilities taken away from a Florida police department include:
• Documents major crime scenes using digital photography, diagramming techniques, and video cameras; develops and prepares photographic enlargements for latent prints, shoe impressions, etc.
• Collects, packages, transports, and submits evidence within prescribed standard operating procedures; transports evidence to appropriate crime labs - for scientific laboratory analysis; ensures that the necessary forms are prepared and processed.
• Attends and documents autopsies via photography/videotape; collects and packages evidence such as hairs, fibers, clothing, finger and palm prints, fingernails, and body fluids from the decedent at autopsy be placed into evidence.
• Locates and recovers latent prints using fuming techniques, powders and chemicals, and photographic techniques
• Locates, collects and enhances blood and body fluids, including blood spatter diagrams and photographs
• Locates and recovers projectile evidence, including the determination of the origin of the projectile
• Casts impressions of tire, tool, and shoe impressions
• Prepares exhibits for case prosecution, including photographs, crime scene diagrams, casts of impressions, etc.
• Produces crime scene drawings and sketches manually to record the location of all evidence; utilizes Crime Zone computer software program for the final picture of a crime scene.
• Prepares written reports of crime scene investigation and submits findings to law enforcement superior
• Maintains continuity of evidence
• Testifies in depositions and court proceedings regarding the finding and processing methods used to gather evidence at the crime scene
• Operates crime scene investigation vehicle to perform assigned duties
How would you feel if your CSI work assisted in searching for a lost child?
How would you feel if your CSI work assisted a murderer?
How would you feel if your CSI work assisted in a rape case DNA match?

The basic conclusion is that CSI is not a glamorous or television-like career; it is difficult, and most persons interested in this field must be mentally prepared to find anything.
As a result, there is the opportunity for young people with extraordinary courage who wish to help our court and justice system succeed while working long hours. Would you do this work if it meant changing the status of a person's freedom, whether they were innocent or guilty of a crime? Best of luck in your endeavors, whether you want to be a CSI, police officer, or FBI agent! Another smart strategy to land a position at CSI is to come up with a motto for the organization. For example, the FBI uses "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity," or "To Protect and Serve," which is used by police, or "This We'll Defend," which is used by the army. Thank you for your inquiry, and best of luck with your studies and search for the motto.
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