· tSpo1anso3ohredoS ·
With 35 years in this profession, I'm constantly asked "Where do I start?' by young people wanting to get into this career. Thanks to television shows like CSI, and NCIS, the profession has exploded with interest. Every young girl thinks she's going to walk onto a homicide scene wearing a short tight dress and stiletto heels (oh, how I wish that were true) like Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger). Every young man thinks he will be as big a stud as Gil Grissom (William Petersen). Although that is incorrect, television has brought a huge interest in forensic science and all juries now want to know about DNA, fingerprints, and blood spatter. We call it "The CSI Effect.
At the beginning of its popularity, most agencies were using sworn police officers and training them as crime scene investigators. It didn't take long to figure out that they could hire civilians to work in this capacity, pay them less money, and usually work several more years before they are eligible for retirement. Many of these people were receiving on-the-job training because there was no one in the colleges qualified to teach it and, before this, there was not enough interest to offer classes. Colleges then saw the amount of money they were losing by not offering classes. In the beginning, most awarded certificates as they didn't have a degree program. Over the years they have evolved and charge students a great deal of money to take these classes, however, many of the schools still offer certificates but degree programs are increasing.
Students enroll in the programs where they are taught out of thick books and perform classroom practicals and eventually, earn a degree and a six-figure debt only to find out they can't find a job. Why? Because of the competition. Many are seeking Masters Degrees to get an edge. So they go more in debt to receive the advanced degree and, guess what? They still aren't working in the field. Why is that? Because agencies want someone with training AND with field experience, which these new graduates don't have. I know plenty of graduates who are working in restaurants and retail stores because the competition is so great.
How do you get field experience? I tell people to apply for any position at a police department, just to get their foot in the door. Once in, you can show the bosses your stellar abilities and it's easier to transfer into a forensic position. But, there is another option...which I strongly recommend. You're 18 years old and you want to get into forensics. You are an adult, legally, but let's face it, that's about it. Now, I am a U.S. Navy Veteran and I will tell you that going into the Navy was the smartest decision I made at that grand age of 18. It made me grow up, it taught me to respect and discipline. It taught me how to work to get what I wanted. No, this isn't an ad for the Navy however, the Army and the Marines have a Joint Mortuary Affairs Unit and it is located at the US Army base in Fort Lee, Virginia. There, you will receive ongoing formal training AND field experience. Best of all, after 4-years, you have all of the qualifications as most agencies will accept military service in lieu of college and, best of all, you have no college debt and probably a pretty nice savings account. Now...you also qualify for the G.I. Bill so if you want to go to college after your enlistment, it's paid for.
I was a Senior Detective in the Forensic Science Unit at a police department near Fort Lee, Virginia. I was also a graduate of the Virginia Forensic Science Academy and an Instructor at our Regional Police Academy. We had a deal with Fort Lee's Provost Marshall where he could send soldiers from the Military Police unit to the academy and we would train them and get them certified as they transition back to civilian life. This not only gave me the opportunity to train these soldiers but it afforded me the opportunity to be invited to train with the Mortuary Affairs Unit. It was very impressive and, since it was the military, they had some of the best and most advanced equipment that I had worked with. They certainly "taught the teacher" a thing or two.
So, if anyone is interested, you might want to consider the Army or the US Marines and the Joint Mortuary Affairs Unit. You will be trained and in Virginia and will travel to wherever is needed to investigate the deaths of our military.
Just another option to consider.