Want to become a crime scene investigator? Here's the real story:

Officer Chris D. Cush
Crime Scene Technician
Watertown (NY) Police Department

Everyone is familiar with the CSI shows on television. They find forensic evidence at every scene, they use forensic evidence to solve every crime, and they do it within an hour. They can find fingerprints on tree bark, and DNA on the head of a pin.

The reality is far different. Most REAL crime scene investigators don't like these shows on TV. Most of us would tell you that we DON'T find relevant forensic evidence at many of the scenes we investigate. And when we go to a crime scene and tell the victims we can't find anything, they look at us like we're incompetent. Some have even said: "But I saw them find that on TV!"

Receive our free monthly newsletter and/or job posting alerts Click to sign up

This becomes a problem in two areas.

The first is the impression it has on the jury pool. Juries today expect to hear about forensic evidence during a trial; so much so that the District Attorney has made this a part of questioning during voir dire:

"Do you realize that forensic evidence isn't found at every crime scene, and do you realize that all crimes of this nature are not solved within an hour?"

Nevertheless, this becomes an issue at a trial where there is no forensic evidence, or there is just a circumstantial case. Juries are sometimes reluctant to convict, when there is no forensic evidence introduced.

The second problem is that these TV shows help to educate the criminals. Many times, crime scene investigators find that gloves have been worn, or that the scene has been cleaned up with Clorox, or some other cleaning agent. Although there are ways around this, it makes our job more difficult.

The other thing these TV shows can't depict is the odor at some of these scenes. The really bad ones are persons who have been deceased for about a week at room temperature; or who have been outdoors for some time before they are found, and the "critters" have had a chance to work on them. Then there's the bodies that have been burned by fire. (Hopefully, they died from smoke inhalation before the flames reached them). At fire scenes, there is climbing over debris, residual smoke, the water dripping, and trying to take good photos in the middle of the night at 16 below zero.

Then, there's the heart breaking death investigations involving children and babies.

If you don't like attending autopsies, find another line of work!

I have also seen a TV show that depicted officers cavorting around in a meth lab, with no protective clothing or breathing apparatus on. Or the TV detectives searching crime scenes with no gloves on, picking evidence up and moving it before it is numbered and photographed.

Not to mention the TV crime labs that perform miracles, and have the DNA results back in half an hour.

The other fallacy these TV shows depict is that crime scene work is a 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday career. The reality is a "middle of the night, weekends, called in from vacation" career. It's getting called to a double death scene, just when you're sitting down to have Christmas dinner.

 Earn a Degree in Crime Scene Investigation, Forensic Science, Computer Forensics or Forensic Psychology

And the other the thing that really kills me about these CSI folks on TV, they NEVER have to do any paperwork!

Crime Scene Investigation is a fascinating and rewarding job. But be forewarned: the reality is far from what you see on TV.


About the Author

Officer Chris D. Cush is a Police Officer and Crime Scene Technician for the Watertown (NY) Police Department. He often gives talks to the Criminal Justice class at his local community college. This article is a comparison of what is depicted on the TV shows and the reality of crime scene work. The article is intended for students and others who might be interested in becoming Crime Scene Technicians.

Article submitted by the author.
Article posted May 2, 2008