Having a license or professional certification is mandatory to work in many jobs, including some in the fields of law and criminal justice. As you pursue a career in forensics – whether as a forensic science technician, the official name for a crime scene investigator (CSI) or in another capacity – you may wonder what sort of professional credentials, if any, you need to work in the field, as well as what types of certification are available to you.
How Important Is Certification?
You don’t usually need a license or certification to get started in a career in forensics, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but there are two important caveats you should know. First of all, different state and local jurisdictions require different qualifications from their forensic science technicians, which may or may not include mandatory certifications and other credentials.
Second, just because a professional credential isn’t required doesn’t mean having it isn’t valuable. In fact, the National Commission on Forensic Science recommended in 2016 that all forensic science technicians and other forensic science practitioners apply for all relevant professional certifications as soon as they meet the educational and experience requirements to do so. Although certification isn’t relevant to entry-level forensic professionals, due to experience requirements, having the relevant certification is a requirement of some employers for roles for experienced forensic science practitioners, the Office of Justice Programs reported.
Although the field of forensic science may seem relatively new, thanks to the popularity of crime dramas over the past couple of decades, professional certification of the field dates back more than three decades, according to the National Commission on Forensic Science.
Different Types of Forensic Science Certifications
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The National Commission on Forensic Science recognizes more than 40 professional certifications that are relevant to forensic science practitioners. These certifications fit into many different categories. Some such categories are broad, such as comprehensive or general criminalistics, scene investigation, forensic anthropology and psychology, controlled substances, toxicology and video, audio and computer analysis. Others are specific to types of evidence, such as fingerprints, marks and impressions, firearms and ballistics, bite marks, trace evidence, handwriting and document examination and the examination of hairs, blood and body tissues and fluids. Within these categories are many types of subdisciplines that get as specific as fire debris trace evidence, ten-print fingerprint analysis and the marks and impressions left by footwear.
Nearly two dozen different certification organizations grant these professional certifications to forensic science practitioners. Many are international organizations, including the International Association for Identification, International Association for Property and Evidence, International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners, International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences, International Association of Forensic Nurses and the Global Information Assurance Certification.
On the list of forensic science certification grantors, you will find the American Boards of the following disciplines: criminalistics, forensic entomology, forensic document examiners, forensic toxicology, forensic odontology, forensic anthropology, forensic psychology and psychology and neurology. The Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center confers credentials like Certified Computer Crime Investigator (CCCI), Certified Digital Forensic Examiner (CDFE) and Certified Digital Media Collector (CDMC).
Some of the organizations through which a forensic science professional might seek certification may be surprisingly familiar, having become widely known in other areas of employment. For example, a certification in civil engineering from the American Society of Civil Engineers is valuable if you want to work in the field of forensic engineering, which may include investigating and analyzing the collapse or failure of bridges, buildings and other infrastructure.
Some certifications are awarded to hundreds or even thousands of forensic science practitioners. Others are rarer, with only one or two dozen certified individuals at the time of the National Commission on Forensic Science’s recommendations.
The Requirements for Forensic Certifications
Generally, eligibility for professional certification in any field usually revolves around meeting minimum requirements in education and experience and earning a passing score on some form of examination. In addition to the initial degree requirements needed for certification, you may also be subject to continuing education requirements. Depending on the requirements of the organization awarding certification, experience may include everything from actual casework to on-the-job training and research.
There are different types of exams and assessments, including written exams, practical exams and oral demonstrations. For some credentials, you must only pass the exam once in a career, while for others, you may be retested periodically to retain your certification. Some professional organizations, like the American Board of Criminalists, offer different levels of certification that reflect a forensic science practitioner’s level of experience and scope of job duties.
Newcomers to the field of forensic science may confuse certification with accreditation. Certification applies to individuals and accreditation applies to forensic laboratories. Both certification and accreditation mark that the recipient has met specific quality standards.