How to Become a Forensic Technician: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
From Diagnosis Unknown and Quincy to CSI and NCIS, the world has fallen in love with the stories of crime lab technicians. And for good reason—the science used to solve crimes from inside a laboratory is extremely fascinating, and the work of a crime lab technician contributes directly to making the world a safer place.
Crime Lab Technician (or Forensic Technician) can be an alternative career choice for EMTs and paramedics, though further education is often required. With first-hand experience in trauma and emergency medicine, many first responders can offer a uniquely valuable perspective inside the forensic lab.
(See our full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics).
As with emergency medical services (EMS), the work of a crime lab technician offers excitement, job security, and the opportunity to help others. As a bonus, however, forensic crime lab technicians also enjoy the perks of a fixed schedule and steadier work environment, which can be attractive to EMTs who desire a more predictable shift schedule and calmer work environment.
Crime Lab Technician Duties & Responsibilities
What Does a Forensic Crime Lab Technician Do?
The primary job of a crime lab technician is to use scientific equipment, various testing methods, and laboratory findings to procure and document evidence for law enforcement. This analysis also helps legal investigators identify the clues that are most relevant to their cases.
Much of a forensic technician’s work takes place within the crime lab, though in some cases field work may also be required.
Common responsibilities for forensic technicians include:
- Setting up, maintaining, and cleaning laboratory equipment
- Keeping records and preparing lab reports
- Examining physical evidence, such as hair, fiber, wood, and other residue
- Analyzing experimental data and results
- Collecting and analyzing fingerprints
- Collecting and storing crime scene evidence
Most crime lab technicians work in the public sector for local or state law enforcement agencies, though there are also private sector positions available as well—sometimes under the name “crime lab analyst” or “forensic lab analyst.”
Many crime lab technicians also choose to pursue specialties within the field, such as blood splatter analysis, fingerprint analysis, or ballistics.
Forensic Lab Technician Job Description
What Is a Typical Day for a Crime Lab Technician?
The role of a crime lab technician requires a person who is disciplined, detail-oriented, and who can think analytically.
Most days begin with a specific routine to prepare the laboratory—checking that all equipment and machinery is in good operating order, all materials are present and accounted for, and that no person or thing is out of place in such a way they could contaminate the experiments. If anything is out-of-place or done incorrectly, crime evidence can easily become corrupted or inadmissible in court.
As previously mentioned, much of the work takes place within a crime laboratory, analyzing and documenting various physical samples collected from a crime scene. Just like a day in the life of an EMT or paramedics, there’s no way to predict what each day will bring, but that’s part of what makes this career so exciting.
Some forensic lab technicians may occasionally leave the laboratory setting to do field work—collecting samples of evidence from crime scenes and mortuaries. But once collected, the technician must return to the laboratory to perform their analysis.
On some occasions, crime lab technicians may be asked to testify in court as an expert witness, or brief investigators on the nuances of a particular laboratory result.
Crime Lab Technician Hours
Crime lab technicians work a regular 40-hour work week with the possibility of overtime for time-sensitive cases. Most lab technicians typically work a standard 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM work schedule with weekends and holidays off.
However, in cases of emergency, there may be times when forensic lab technicians are called in to work an evening, weekend, or holiday shift, but this usually doesn’t occur on a regular basis.
Crime Lab Technician Uniform
Most crime lab technicians work in sterile environments, so lab coats, gloves, and masks will more than likely be required. Because they work with sensitive crime scene evidence, wearing visible identification is typically required.
Crime Lab Technician Requirements
How to Become a Crime Lab Technician
The minimum requirement to work as a crime lab technician is a high-school diploma, though most laboratories will require at least an associate degree in forensic science.
Other labs may require a four-year bachelor’s degree in a related field. Check with your local crime labs and law enforcement agencies to gather the exact requirements for the employers in your area.
Crime Lab Technician Might Be a Good Fit for You If…
- You are organized and detail-oriented
- You have strong computer and analytical skills
- You are a problem-solver, able to find solutions to new and unusual challenges
- You enjoy working indoors
- You can focus on specific tasks for long periods of time
- You have a strong stomach
- You can pass a background check and drug test
- You are a strong communicator
Crime Lab Technician Education
What Training Is Required to Become a Forensic Lab Technician?
Certification and licensing aren’t requirements for crime lab technicians at most public sector laboratories, but it will be difficult to land a position without formal training and education. Analyzing crime scene evidence is serious business, and investigators want to know they’re working with people who know what they’re doing and who can be trusted to get the job done correctly.
Some laboratories will hire forensic lab technicians with only an associates degree, others look for bachelor’s degrees, and still others don’t require a degree at all if the technician can demonstrate the necessary laboratory skills, knowledge, and experience for the job.
Crime Lab Technician Certification
Certification may not be required for the position, but crime lab technicians do have the option of certifying in specific laboratory practices. The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) oversees these certifications, offering certification in the following areas:
- Comprehensive Criminalistics Examination (CCE)
- Drug Analysis (DA)
- Molecular Biology (MB)
- Fire Debris Analysis (FD)
- Hairs and Fibers (HF)
- Paints and Polymers (PP)
Each exam is three hours in length and covers 220 test questions—60% from the area of specialty, and 40% from the general CCE exam. Upon passing, crime lab technicians will be awarded a specific status—Diplomate (for bachelor’s degree holders with over two years laboratory experience, typically reserved for supervisors), Fellow (for those with all Diplomate requirements plus an additional proficiency certification), or Affiliate (for diploma or associate degree holders still completing their first two years of experience).
Again, while certification isn’t required to work as a crime lab technician, holding certification can open doors to better career opportunities and set you apart from other job candidates.
Forensic Lab Technician Programs
During most crime lab technician courses, you’ll study:
- Crime scene technology: physical evidence
- Crime scene technology: biological evidence
- Laboratory procedures and operations
- Criminal Investigation
- Courtroom Procedures
In many programs, you’ll also be given the opportunity to work in a supervised laboratory setting such as an externship to gain hands on experience.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Crime Lab Technician?
It can take anywhere from two to four years to become a crime lab technician.
For some employers who don’t require any formal college education or certification, it can take no time at all. However, given the competitive nature of today’s job market, this would be extremely unlikely.
As previously mentioned, the most common requirement to become a forensic lab technician is an associates or bachelor’s degree in forensic science (or related field).
A bachelor’s degree in biology or related field takes four years to complete, while an associates degree can be completed in two years or less depending on your course load.
Crime Lab Technician Required Skills
Besides the educational requirements and certification options, forensic lab technicians should exhibit the following skills to achieve success:
- Critical Thinking – Crime lab techs are essentially problem solvers, using lab equipment and analysis to discover missing puzzle pieces of a criminal investigation. This requires disciplined, critical thinking and focus.
- Technical Skills – Crime lab techs use a wide range of computer and laboratory equipment to conduct experiments.
- Analytical Skills – Crime lab techs must be able to interpret and analyze the results of their experiments.
- Communication Skills – Crime lab techs must be able to communicate with their colleagues in the lab, with investigators (who may not be trained in laboratory jargon), and occasionally with the members of a courtroom. Clear communication is key in each of these situations.
- Observational Skills – Crime lab technicians search for microscopic clues within hundreds or even thousands of materials. To succeed, forensic lab techs must be detail-oriented and possess strong observational skills.
From EMT to Crime Lab Technician
How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become A Crime Lab Technician?
- Proof of Performance – Anyone who has worked as an EMT or paramedic has proven they can work under stressful and often unpredictable circumstances. They can think on their feet, a prized quality in a crime lab technician.
- Medical Training – Emergency medical training grants future crime lab technicians an additional perspective when analyzing crime scenes and potential evidence.
- Communication – EMTs and paramedics must communicate with a variety of people every day—patients, onlookers, doctors, and law enforcement. This is excellent practice for the many professionals that crime lab technicians must also communicate with.
- Organizational Skills – EMTs and paramedics begin and end their day with lists, set tasks, records, and documentation, which is very similar to the guidelines and procedures required of crime lab techs.
- Strong Stomach –EMTs and paramedic see a lot in the field, as do forensic lab technicians. If an EMT can observe, assess, and treat a wound or illness in the field, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to handle whatever they see in the crime lab also.
Crime Lab Technician Salary
How Much Does a Forensic Lab Technician Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary data for every type of crime lab technician (for example, a crime lab analyst with a diploma versus a forensic lab technician with a bachelor’s degree) but the BLS does report average salary information for forensic science technicians.
According to the BLS, crime lab technicians can earn an average salary of $63,170 per year (or $30.37 per hour). However, it’s important to keep in mind that experience, education, industry, certification, and location can impact your compensation.
Highest Paying Industries for Crime Lab Technicians
|Industry||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|Federal Executive Branch||$53.45||$111,180|
|Scientific Research & Development Services||$38.45||$79,970|
|Local Government Laboratories||$31.11||$64,700|
|Scientific & Technical Consulting Services||$30.46||$63,350|
|State Government Laboratories||$30.04||$62,470|
|Medical & Diagnostic Laboratories||$21.53||$44,790|
Where you work as a crime lab technician can also affect your salary.
Highest Paying States for Crime Lab Technicians
|State||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Crime Lab Technicians
|City||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|San Francisco, CA||$49.97||$103,940|
|Boston, MA||$39.83||$82, 850|
|San Jose, CA||$39.38||$81,910|
|San Diego, CA||$39.33||$81,810|
Beginning Your Career as a Crime Lab Technician
An EMT or paramedic with personal strengths in analysis, organization, and observation can use their unique perspective and experience in emergency medicine launch a promising career in forensic science. And with 14% job growth anticipated in the field, many laboratories are already on the lookout for qualified, trusted workers to take on the challenge.
If you’re not already an EMT and would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to crime lab technician , you can start by training for EMT certification. Emergency medical services are an excellent way to test the waters before fully committing to many related fields in science, healthcare, or law enforcement.
Jobs for both lab technicians and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for hard-working, smart, and dedicated employees for their teams. If you’re interested in either of these careers, it requires only the courage to take the first step. Good luck!