A significant component of law and order is evidence. Legal convictions would be difficult without strong, admissible evidence presented in court. Criminal analysts – or the more specialized, forensic science technicians – are valuable members of any criminal investigation responsible for curating and analyzing this evidence.
Criminal analysts conduct research and facilitate investigations by collecting evidence from a crime scene such as bodily fluids and fingerprints. They also research and analyze criminal activity in a specific area to provide crime intelligence to police.
While forensic science technicians also collect and analyze evidence, they typically specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. This role is more focused on the evidence itself — taking photos of crime scenes, making sketches, taking notes — before collecting it, cataloging it and preserving it for transport to crime labs. Once the evidence arrives at the lab, they run tests, consult with experts and can even be tasked with reconstructing crime scenes.
Frequently, analysts and technicians will have a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, like chemistry or biology. They will then get their post-graduate degree in criminal justice to round out their knowledge. Arizona State University offers an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice to assist individuals in building strong leadership skills and developing a deeper understanding of the criminal justice field as a whole.
A typical day in the life of a criminal analyst
If you pursue a career as a criminal analyst or forensic science technician, your day will revolve around criminal evidence in one way or another. It could start with collecting evidence from a crime scene, checking for fingerprints, compiling items left behind or simply documenting the scene with photos and notes. These professionals must be meticulous when executing such procedures.
Once evidence is back at the lab, technicians are responsible for running tests. This could involve performing chemical, biological and microscopic analyses or checking for DNA. They are also in charge of generating reports for the investigation. Based on the analysis of the evidence collected, as well as any additional information received from field experts, professionals write up their findings to aid in the completion of the investigation.
Criminal analysts may work on ongoing projects, researching and analyzing criminal activity in a given area. They might search for information using maps and available statistics to find new solutions to existing issues. Interpreting surveys and statistical data with advanced crime analysis techniques can also come into play on a day-to-day basis in this role.
Criminal analysts and forensic science technicians can also work in police departments, morgues and medical examiner offices.
A closer look at the professional landscape for criminal analysts
Employment in this field is expected to grow by about 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Competition can be strong for these positions due to increased interest in the field. Applicants who have both a bachelor’s degree in a natural science field and a master’s degree in criminal justice may have better opportunities.
The median starting salary for a criminal analyst with less than five years of experience is $44,000, according to Payscale. This compensation continues to rise as your experience increases, potentially reaching $70,000 later in your career. The median pay overall for a forensic science technician, according to the BLS, is $57,000 per year.
Like most jobs, relevant prior experience can be helpful when applying for these positions, but applicable industry certifications such as those in computer forensics or incident handling can give you an extra advantage.
Becoming a criminal analyst
A core set of qualities helpful for anyone considering a career in criminal analysis includes:
- Background in science
- Problem solving ability
- Communication and collaboration
- Analytical mind and evidence-based reasoning
- Perceptiveness and attention to detail
It’s also extremely important to have a solid understanding of the processes and procedures for collecting evidence. To properly collect samples, there are numerous guidelines to follow that keep you safe and protect privacy. You will receive on-the-job training in this area, typically by assisting a more senior investigator and initially working under general supervision. Once this training is complete, you’ll begin working independently.
All of these skills help ensure success when collecting and analyzing evidence or when working with other analysts, police and industry experts to collect and present additional data.
Ready to learn more about your potential career as a criminal analyst?
Pursuing a career in criminal justice brings you into a community of police officers, detectives, investigators, supervisors and many more professionals. No matter which career path in criminal justice interests you, you can learn more about expanding your qualifications in the online criminal justice master’s program offered at Arizona State University. This advanced degree explores the core tenets of criminal justice which, when combined with a science background, can increase your eligibility in a variety of career settings related to forensics and analysis.