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Crime Laboratory Analyst

Crime laboratory analysts spend most of their time in a laboratory, not working at crime scenes, as implied by popular TV sitcoms. However, working as a crime laboratory analyst can still be an exhilarating job. Lab work is very complicated, so well trained crime lab analysts have an important and difficult job tying evidence collected at a crime scene to suspects. Crime laboratory analysts sometimes take pictures, collect evidence, and exam crime scenes during an investigation. Most of the time crime scene technicians perform this task.

Some laboratories will hire multiple crime lab analysts who each have different specialties. For example, some analysts are experts in DNA. Most police departments employee a few analysts with multiple responsibilities and specialties. Analysts usually exam DNA, weapons collected from crime scenes, toxicology reports, trace evidence, and other items found at crime scenes. This evidence is used to determine whether potential suspects are anyway connected to the crime. After an investigation is completed, an analysts findings and conclusions are forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. Crime lab analysts are often called upon to testify as expert witnesses at trials. Crime lab analysts usually spend 40 hours every week in the laboratory; however, they may work nights and weekends during some investigations.

Most forensic scientists and crime laboratory analysts are generalists. However, there are also quite a few analysts that specialize in a particular area of laboratory analyses. Individuals employed by large laboratories tend to specialize. What ever the orientation most analysts work in one or more of the following areas.
  • Controlled substances and toxicology. Crime lab analysts specializing in controlled substances and toxicology commonly examine body fluids (blood in particular) and tissues for the presence of drugs, alcohol, and poisons.

  • Biology. Crime lab analysts frequently compare hair and body fluids for typing factors, including DNA analysis. DNA analysis is used to determine how frequently a person's particular genetic code is found in a given population; forensic scientists as well as crime laboratory analyst isolate strands of DNA from an individual's body fluids and compare that individual'�'s unique DNA to the DNA of a sample of others. Due to its accuracy, DNA analysis has become very popular in recent years.

    Analysis of a hair can determine a number of factors including whether or not the hair belongs to an animal or a human, diseases the person or animal has, the body area the hair came from, and, in some instances, a person's race. Via simple side-by-side comparisons, examination of hair at a crime scene can be matched to the person who left it there.

  • Chemistry. Crime lab analysts are required to analyze the chemical composition of trace physical evidence including blood spatters, soil, paint, and glass. For example, blood spatters help reconstruct a crime scene: The patterns of spatters, the shapes of blood droplets, as well as the forensic analysis of the blood type and age indicate how and when a crime was committed.

  • Document examination. Document examination includes many areas of expertise, including document dating, forgery, handwriting analysis, computer printing, typewriting, and photocopying.

  • Firearms and toolmark identification. Firearms examination involves matching identifying characteristics between a firearm and projectile and between a projectile and target. Typically, this includes matching bullets to the gun that fired them. Toolmark identification involves matching some identifying characteristics of a tool, such as a pry bar, to the object on which it was used, such as a door frame. It also includes explosives and imprint evidence.

  • Fingerprinting. Fingerprinting, one of the oldest of the forensic analysis processes, provides a very reliable way of identifying an individual because everyone's' fingerprints are unique. And because fingerprints are formed underneath a person's skin, fingerprints are always the same - even after burning or scaring. Crime lab analysts match fingerprints recovered from a crime scene against the fingerprints of individuals on file to make a positive identification. Advanced digital technology now allows analysts to compare prints at an incredible rate of 400,000 per second.

  • Psychophysical detection of deception exam. The psychophysical detection of deception exam (common know as the polygraph or lie detector test) is based on the scientific theory that when someone is lying, their body responds in an certain way despite any attempts to avoid detection. Crime lab analysts employ specialized electrical equipment to measure changes and fluctuations in internal body functions - including blood pressure, breathing, and pulse rate - in response to their questions and then they analyze the results.
Education, Training and Qualifications

To begin a career as a crime laboratory analyst, an individual needs a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, toxicology, or another related field in the physical or life sciences. Individuals with a degree in chemistry are usually better prepared to work as an analyst but earning a degree in chemistry is not absolutely necessary. If you are interested in specializing in trace evidence examination, not only should you earn a chemistry degree but you should take electives that include microbiology, optical mineralogy, botany and textile courses. You should also take any crime detection and investigation courses that are offered as well. Those desiring to work with DNA should study biology while taking courses in biochemistry and genetics.

From time to time, physical evidence is found that requires other analysis specialties, such as anthropology, entomology, botany and zoology. Having a degree or emphasis in any of these specialties will be helpful in obtaining employment but do not expect to work exclusively in any of these areas as not even a large crime lab -- which tend to hire specialists -- receives enough evidence in those particular areas to fill all of a specialist's time. A very useful education combination that is likely to get you an analyst job in a crime lab would be a major that focuses on both forensic archeology and DNA analysis.

In addition to a bachelor's degree many labs are now requiring their analysts to possess a graduate degree.

Many laboratories are now also requiring candidates to complete specialized training programs before they analyze physical evidence. However, analysts who have worked at other crime labs are often not required to complete this training. If you are interested in working as a crime laboratory analyst, secure an internship with a laboratory while you are still attending school to improve your job opportunities. Fulfilling an internship prior to graduating will also give you a big advantage over the competition.

Here is some information on a crime laboratory analyst salary.

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