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CSI or Crime Scene Investigation became highly popularized by the advent of the television show: CSI in October 2000. The show ran for 15 seasons until 2015. Two years after the launch of CSI, CBS began CSI-Miami in 2002, which lasted ten seasons. The CSI creator, Anthony Zuiker, extended the franchise in 2004 with the debut of CSI-New York starring Gary Sinise. It ran nine seasons until 2013. To differentiate the three cities, the original CSI became CSI-Las Vegas.

Based on the above, three major cities glamorized crime scene investigation. However, in reality, does this triumvirate house the best CSI department? An interesting fact is that the Vegas series was not shot entirely in the city. The producers did most of the filming at a corporate campus owned by Lockheed Martin in Santa Clarita, California. That aside, the cities were probably chosen for reasons other than their standing as CSI units.

What constitutes an excellent CSI Department?

The city does not make the department stand out, whereas the CSI unit makes the city recognized. The next question is – who or what decides if a forensics department? We turn to The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) for assistance. It is a nonprofit professional organization of crime laboratory directors and forensic science managers dedicated to providing the highest quality standards of the profession. In the fall of 1974, the society began under the stewardship of Briggs White, Director of the FBI Laboratory.

ASCLD works with accrediting organizations, forensic labs, and their members to help labs achieve accreditation. However, other criteria establish a lab’s standards in the field of forensics. We will examine some of these in the following material regarding cities with an excellent CSI department.

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St. Louis County, Missouri

The county’s lab opened its door in July 1966. Currently, it services ninety police and several federal agencies. Their biology/DNA testing received accreditation with the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) in 2004. The lab also has certification through the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB). The county facility meets the ANAB 17025 Forensic Science Testing and Calibration Laboratories Accreditation Requirements, as well as the FBI Quality Assurance Standards for DNA Databasing Laboratories.

Phoenix, Arizona

The Phoenix Police Department Laboratory Services Bureau’s Crime Lab employs over 140 professionals working in various capacities of crime investigation. The areas include Evidence Processing, Latent Prints, Biology, Controlled Substances, Trace Evidence, toxicology, Firearms, and Crime Scene Response. The lab processes approximately 23,000 requests annually. It, too, has the ANAB accreditation. All units provide real-time analysis with results typically available in less than 30 days for all types of crime analysis. This timeframe is three to six times faster than labs around the country. The Phoenix-Mesa area ranks second (0.24 per 1,000 jobs) in the employment of Forensic Science Technicians, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

New York, N.Y.

The greater metropolitan area employs 640 Forensic Science Technicians, which is the second most by city, per the BLS. In 1991, the Westchester County Forensic Science Laboratory was the first forensic laboratory in the Northeast to receive accreditation by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Additionally, in 1999, the laboratory was the fourteenth in the country to obtain certification in Forensic DNA Analysis. The staff joins and participates in organizations such as the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists, and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Many of the analysts pursue and earn certification from the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC).

New York City has a $10 million state-of-the-art digital crime lab that opened in 2016.  The district attorney’s office estimates that approximately 25% of its 100,000 annual cases involve digital evidence or data stored on devices. Researchers in the digital unit browse the dark web, gathering intelligence and criminal activity in Russian.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Office of Forensic Science (OSF) supports Philadelphia PD in evidence analysis. The internationally accredited lab specializes in evidence collection, analysis, and interpretation. Twelve units comprise the OSF:

  1. Chemistry – used in drug evidence cases
  2. Crime Scene Unit – documents all crime scene evidence
  3. Criminalistics – one of three FBI approved CODIS laboratories in Pennsylvania
  4. Digital Media Evidence – body camera and interview programs
  5. Document Examination – the authenticity of documents
  6. Evidence Intake – accepts evidence from other agencies and departments
  7. Firearms Identification – one of the first Crime Gun Intelligence focused firearms units in the country
  8. Forensic Security – protects staff and all procured evidence
  9. Latent Print – has authorized use of state and federal fingerprint databases
  10. Quality Assurance – responsible for quality control of the OSF
  11. Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory – computer forensics
  12. Drug Evidence Control – handles all drug and related evidence

Quantico, Virginia

Home of the FBI and one of the largest crime labs. Created in 1932, the lab has experts that cover every aspect of criminal and illegal activity, including counterterrorism, cryptanalysis, metallurgy, tool marks, questioned documents, and explosive devices. The Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) opened in 2003, dedicated to analyze and exploit all terrorist improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The lab boasts a staff of about 500 scientific experts and agents. These experts travel the world, supporting other law enforcement agencies and forensic science labs. The National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance, in Pittsburgh, has experts from the FBI, academia, and the private sector. These groups complement each other, sharing information to prevent and detect cyber threats.

Additional Resources

Is There a Certification Required to Work in Forensics?

Are There Actual Bachelor’s Degrees in Crime Scene Investigations?

Do I Need a Ph.D. to Become a CSI?

How Do I Become a Forensic Firearms & Ballistics Expert?

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?