A career as a crime scene investigator, or CSI, sounds like an interesting life – but can you make a living in this role? The good news is that the median wage for forensic science technicians is well above the median salary for all occupations. Of course, many distinct factors go into determining how much you personally can expect to earn as a crime scene investigator. Some of these factors, like your level of education, may seem obvious, but others – like the state in which you work and the types of employer you work for – can have a much bigger influence than you might anticipate.

Salary Reporting for Crime Scene Investigators

CSI salary

IMAGE SOURCE: Merzperson, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

One way to gauge salary data for crime scene investigators is to look at the median, or midpoint, salary for the field. For all forensic science technicians, including crime scene investigators who work in the field and in a forensics laboratory, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary of $58,230. Half of crime scene investigators earn less than the median wage and half earn more.

When looking at the earning potential for a CSI, it also helps to consider the salary range for the position – or the highest and lowest wages you could reasonably expect to make. The International Crime Scene Investigators Association reports that CSI salaries dipping to $20,000 at the low end of the spectrum but, as the BLS shows, they rise above $50,000 for higher earners. According to the BLS, the 10 percent of forensic science technicians with the lowest rates of pay make under $34,600 per year, while the highest-paid forensic scientists see wages above $97,200.

Another measure to consider is the mean, or average, pay rate. The BLS reported a mean salary rate of $62,490, or $30.05 per hour, for forensic science technicians.    

Where Crime Scene Investigators Make the Most

CSI salary graphic

Geography plays the biggest role in determining how much a CSI makes, according to the International Crime Scene Investigators Association. Certainly, the data from the BLS shows that some states pay far more lucrative wages than others. The best-paying state in the U.S. for forensic science technicians is Illinois, where the average wage is $87,660, or $42.14 per hour. Not far behind is California, paying a mean salary of $85,280 or $41.00 an hour. In Massachusetts, the average wage is $79,440 per year. Connecticut and New Hampshire round out the top five highest-paying states, with mean salaries of $73,970 and $70,960, respectively.

California employs more forensic science technicians – 2,110 – than any other state. However, another of these top-paying states, New Hampshire, is tied with Wyoming and South Dakota for the lowest rate of employment, employing just 40 forensic science technicians.

Factors That Influence the Earning Potential of CSIs

The type of industry and work environment in which you are employed can greatly affect how much you make as a forensic science technician. Although the BLS reported an overall median wage of $58,230, you see a different story when you break down the median pay by employing industry. The industry employing the majority of forensic science technicians, the local government, pays a median salary very close to that overall median wage, $58,950. State governments, which employ the next largest share of forensic science technicians, pay a very slightly higher median wage of $59,250. For the 2 percent of forensic science technicians who work in testing laboratories, though, the median pay rate drops by $10,000 per year, down to $48,000. Medical and diagnostic laboratories pay even less, with a median wage of just $40,650.

Other factors that impact salary potential include your level of education, experience and training, according to the International Crime Scene Investigators Association. In general, STEM careers – jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, of which forensic science is a part – tend to see a wage premium when you earn a master’s degree, the BLS reported. A master’s degree also improves the career outlook for candidates in this competitive field, making them not just more likely to earn higher wages but also more likely to get the jobs they desire.

You might also make more if you have specialized training in sought after areas of criminal evidence analysis, such as latent fingerprint examination, firearms ballistics, toxicology and DNA analysis, or if you have years of experience in a law enforcement role.

Additional Resources

Does Every Police Department Have a CSI?

Is Life as a CSI Like They Show on TV?

How Safe Is It to Be a Crime Scene Investigator?