How to Become a Forensic Technician: Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
From Bones and NCIS to CSI and even The X-Files, the world loves stories of crime labs and the technicians who work in them. And it’s with good reason—the science used to solve crimes inside a laboratory can be fascinating, and the work of crime lab technicians contributes directly to helping make the world safer. Cut to commercial.
Crime Lab Technician (or Forensic Technician) can be an exciting and unique alternative career choice for experienced EMTs and paramedics, though not surprisingly, further education is often required. Armed with first-hand experience in trauma and emergency medicine and all the challenges that go with it, many first responders can offer a uniquely valuable perspective inside the forensic lab.
(See our list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics).
As with emergency medical services (EMS), the work of a crime lab technician offers unique excitement, excellent job security, and the real opportunity to help others—and, yes, catch bad guys! As a bonus, forensic crime lab technicians also enjoy the advantages of a fixed schedule and steady work environment, which can be very attractive to EMTs looking for 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 the latest in scientific equipment and forensic technology, along with various testing methods and laboratory findings, to procure and document evidence for law enforcement. This highly scientific analysis also helps legal investigators identify the most relevant clues to their cases.
Much of a forensic technician’s work occurs within the crime lab—which probably won’t be as well-lit and glamorous as the ones on TV. Sorry. Some cases may require additional fieldwork.
Typical 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, bodily fluids, and other residues
- Analyzing experimental data and results
- Collecting and analyzing fingerprints
- Collecting, cataloging, and storing crime scene evidence
Many crime lab technicians work in the public sector for local or state law enforcement agencies. However, there are also private sector positions—usually under the title “crime lab analyst” or “forensic lab analyst.”
Many crime lab technicians also pursue more specific 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 discipline, attention to detail, and a solid ability to think analytically.
Most days begin with a specific routine for preparing the laboratory. This includes checking that all equipment and machinery are 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 that they could contaminate the experiments. It’s an exacting and demanding process because if any little thing is out-of-place or done incorrectly, crime evidence can easily become corrupted or deemed inadmissible in court.
As previously mentioned, much of the work of a forensic lab tech takes place within a crime laboratory, analyzing and documenting various types of physical samples collected from a crime scene. Just like a day in the life of an EMT or paramedic, there’s no way to predict what each day will bring, but that’s part of what makes this career so interesting and exciting.
Some forensic lab technicians may occasionally need to do field work—collecting evidence samples from crime scenes and mortuaries. But once collected, the technician must return directly to the laboratory to perform their analysis. Again, delays or detours could deem evidence as inadmissible.
Sometimes, crime lab technicians may testify in court as expert witnesses or brief investigators on the nuances of a particular laboratory result. You’ve probably seen that on TV too.
Crime Lab Technician Hours
One of the great things about being a crime lab technician is that they work a regular 40-hour work week, with the possibility of overtime for time-sensitive cases. Most lab technicians typically work a standard 8 AM to 5 PM schedule with weekends and holidays off.
However, forensic lab technicians may work evenings, weekends, or holiday shifts in emergencies where time is of the essence, but this doesn’t occur regularly.
Crime Lab Technician Uniform
Most crime lab technicians work in sterile environments, so lab coats, gloves, and masks are almost always required. In addition, wearing visible identification is typically required because they work with sensitive crime scene evidence.
Crime Lab Technician Requirements
How to Become a Crime Lab Technician
The minimum requirement to become a crime lab technician is a high-school diploma, though most laboratories will require at least an associate degree in forensic science.
Some labs may also require a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Check with your local crime labs and law enforcement agencies to learn the exact requirements for the employers in your area.
Being a 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 extended periods
- 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?
Most public sector laboratories have no certification and licensing requirements for becoming a crime lab technician. However, it will be difficult (or impossible) to land a position without formal training and education—watching the shows isn’t enough. Analyzing crime scene evidence is serious business, and investigators want to know they’re working with people who know what they’re doing and can be trusted to get the job done correctly.
Some laboratories hire forensic lab technicians with only an associate degree, others look for bachelor’s degrees, and some don’t require a degree if the technician can demonstrate the necessary laboratory skills, knowledge, and experience.
Crime Lab Technician Certification
Crime lab technicians have the option of becoming certified in specific laboratory practices. The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) oversees these certifications and offers 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 takes three hours and covers 220 test questions—60% from the area of specialty and 40% from the general CCE exam. Upon passing, crime lab technicians are awarded a specific status—Diplomate (for bachelor’s degree holders with over two years of 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 specific certification isn’t required to work as a crime lab technician, obtaining 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, candidates have the opportunity to work in a supervised laboratory setting to gain hands-on experience.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Crime Lab Technician?
Depending on various factors, becoming a crime lab technician can take anywhere from two to four years.
For those employers who don’t require any formal college education or certification, it won’t take very long. However, given today’s job market’s competitive nature, there aren’t many employers who will do this.
As previously mentioned, the most common requirement for becoming a forensic lab technician is an associate or bachelor’s degree in forensic science (or related field).
A bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field typically takes four years to complete. An associate’s 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, successful forensic lab technicians typically exhibit the following skills:
- Critical Thinking – Crime lab techs are puzzle solvers, using lab equipment and analysis to uncover crucial evidence in a criminal investigation. This requires disciplined, critical thinking and focus.
- Technical Skills – Crime lab techs use various 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 understand laboratory jargon), and occasionally with the members of a courtroom. Clear communication is key in each of these situations.
- Observational Skills – Crime lab technicians often search for microscopic clues within hundreds or thousands of materials. Forensic lab techs must be detail-oriented and possess strong observational skills to succeed.
From EMT to Crime Lab Technician
How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become a Crime Lab Technician?
- Proof of Performance – Anyone who has successfully worked as an EMT or paramedic has proven they can work under stressful and often unpredictable circumstances. They have shown they can think on their feet—a prized quality in a crime lab technician.
- Medical Training – Emergency medical training gives future crime lab technicians an additional on-the-scene 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, as crime lab technicians must also communicate with many different types of professionals.
- Organizational Skills – EMTs and paramedics begin and end their day with an important set of lists, set tasks, records, and documentation, which is very similar to the guidelines and procedures required of crime lab techs.
- Strong Stomach – EMTs and paramedics 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.
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, in 2021, crime lab technicians earned an average salary* of $66,850 per year (or $32 per hour). However, as in all fields, it’s important to remember that experience, education, industry, certification, and location can impact your compensation.
Highest Paying Industries for Crime Lab Technicians
Crime lab technicians work in various industries, and some pay better than others. Here are the highest-paying industries for crime lab technicians:
|Industry||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|Federal executive branch||$54.91||$114,220|
|General medical and surgical hospitals||$36.25||$75,400|
|Scientific and technical consulting services||$29.35||$61,040|
Highest Paying States for Crime Lab Technicians
Where you work across the country as a crime lab technician can also affect your salary. Here are the highest-paying states for crime lab technicians:
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Crime Lab Technicians
Here are the highest-paying cities for crime lab technicians:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$51.25||$106,600|
|Los Angeles, CA||$46.62||$96,980|
|San Francisco, CA||$46.35||$96,410|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$42.10||$87,560|
|San Diego, CA||$41.42||$86,150|
|New Haven, CT||$41.21||$85,730|
Beginning Your Career as a Crime Lab Technician
As an experienced EMT or paramedic with strengths in analysis, organization, and observation, you can utilize and build on your unique perspective and experience in emergency medicine to branch out and launch an exciting career in forensic science. With 16% job growth anticipated in the field through the decade’s end, many laboratories are looking for qualified, trusted workers to take on the challenge.
If you’re not already an EMT and want to gain real-world experience before becoming a crime lab technician, you should start by training for EMT certification. Emergency medical services are an excellent way to start before moving to related fields in science, healthcare, or law enforcement.
Jobs for lab technicians and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are looking for hard-working 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!