Crime Laboratory Analyst

Crime laboratory analysts primarily work in laboratories, even though popular movies and television programs typically depict them at crime scenes. This is still an exciting, challenging, and fascinating career. Crime laboratory analysts are well trained because they're responsible for analyzing evidence used to solve crimes and convict violent criminals. While investigating crimes, these specialists gather physical evidence, take pictures, and examine crime scenes for anomalies, but crime scene technicians are primarily responsible for performing these duties.

Laboratories and police departments often hire multiple specialists. Crime laboratory analysts can specialize in DNA, toxicology, and other subjects. Analysts exam trace evidence, DNA, crime weapons, and other evidence retrieved from crime scenes. Evidence is examined to solve crimes and assess whether suspected criminals are linked to specific crimes. Following a comprehensive investigation, crime laboratory analysts submit their conclusions to law enforcement personnel. Analysts are frequently asked to provide expert testimony at court trials. Crime laboratory analysts typically work in the lab 40 hours per week, but they often work evenings and weekends while conducting criminal investigations.

Most crime laboratory analysts and forensic scientists are classified as generalists, but there are various subjects they can specialize in. Most forensic scientists working for large laboratories specialize in any of the following fields:

  • Controlled substances and toxicology - Those specializing in this field test blood, tissue, and other body fluids for poisons, prescription and illegal drugs, alcohol, and other substances.

  • Biology - Crime laboratory analysts often compare blood and hair samples for similar features. DNA analysis is conducted to determine how often an individual's specific code is present within selected populations. Crime laboratory analysts specializing in DNA analysis isolate a person's DNA strands and compare his or her DNA to samples from other people. Since it's accurate, forensic scientists heavily rely upon DNA analysis during criminal investigations.

    Hair sample analysis is used to determine various factors, such as whether the sample came from an animal or person, the area of the body where the hair was located, diseases the person carried, and, in certain circumstances, the individual's race. By comparing two samples, crime laboratory analysts can determine whether hair collected at a crime scene belonged to a suspected criminal.

  • Chemistry - Crime laboratory analysts evaluate the chemical composition of collected evidence, such as soil, blood, broken glass, and any other substance that can provide answers during a criminal investigation. Blood spatters are analyzed by crime laboratory investigators since location, shape, and physical properties provide insight into crimes.

  • Document examination - Forensic scientists specializing in document examination investigate suspected forgery, determine whether documents are photocopied, typewritten, or printed, assess document age, and compare handwriting samples.

  • Firearms and toolmark identification - Many crime laboratory analysts specialize in ballistics and firearm identification. When bullets or casings are collected from crime scenes, these specialists match them to specific firearms. Toolmark identification is utilized by crime laboratory analysts to match tool fragments with tools used during the commission of a crime. These specialists also analyze imprint and explosives evidence.

  • Fingerprinting - Forensic scientists and police investigators have been using fingerprinting for years to identify and convict criminals. This is a very reliable method since no set of fingerprints are similar. Likewise, fingerprints cannot be altered since they originate beneath the skin and are immune to scaring and burning. Crime laboratory analysts compare retrieved fingerprints to fingerprints contained in databases to identify suspected criminals. New digital technology now makes it possible to compare prints at the high rate of 400,000/second.

  • Psychophysical detection of deception exam - This exam, popularly known as the lie detector or polygraph test, is used to determine whether individuals undergoing questioning are being honest. The underlying basis of this exam is the theory that people who are lying experience involuntary physical reactions even though they're being deceptive. Crime laboratory analysts utilize specialized electrical technology to detect changes in body functions, such as pulse rate, breathing, and blood pressure, after questions are answered. Following polygraph tests, crime laboratory analysts evaluate the results.

Education, Training and Qualifications

Crime laboratory analysts are required to hold a bachelor's degree in chemistry, forensic science, toxicology, biology, or any other life or physical science field. To prepare for a career in this field, it's recommended to earn a chemistry degree, but it's not necessary. Those wanting to be experts in trace evidence analysis should study chemistry and complete elective courses in optical mineralogy, microbiology, and forensic science. Likewise, enroll in courses related to criminal investigation. Aspiring analysts wanting to specialize in DNA should earn a biology degree and complete genetics and biochemistry courses.

Occasionally, physical evidence is retrieved that must be analyzed by professionals specializing in zoology, botany, entomology, and anthropology. It's useful to hold a college degree in the aforementioned areas, but large laboratories which typically hire multiple specialists usually do not staff their facilities with these specialists since few cases require their expertise. However, you will more than likely find a job as a crime laboratory analyst if you earn a degree focusing on DNA analysis and forensic archeology.

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Many crime laboratories now require analysts to complete graduate degree programs. Additionally, they're also requiring new employees to obtain specialized training prior to conducting any lab or field work. Analysts with prior laboratory experience are usually not required to obtain additional training. You will improve your chances of landing a job after college by completing an internship at some time during your education. By doing this, you'll have better opportunities than graduates who didn't complete internships.

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