A forensic technician, also known as a criminalist, is a professional who specializes in collecting and analyzing physical evidence related to the commission of crimes. Forensic technicians work in the lab and in the field, and they are primarily employed by government agencies, although they can also work for private companies such as labs which specialize in evaluating evidence for small police departments and agencies which cannot retain their own forensic technicians. Job prospects in this field are generally very bright, especially in urban areas.
To become a forensic technician, someone can either complete a two year training program, or obtain an associate's degree in a topic related to forensics, and then pursue additional training in forensics. Most people start out working under the supervision of experienced scientists and technicians, gradually expanding their skills until they can work independently.
Forensic science involves the application of science and math to situations which involve the law. As a result, a forensic technician is not just a good scientist. He or she is also familiar with the protocols for handling evidence to ensure that it is not compromised, ensuring that it can be used in court, and forensic technicians can write up final reports and testify as expert witnesses, using their scientific skills to help a prosecutor make a case, or occasionally testifying on behalf of the defense.
Working conditions and hours for forensic technicians vary. Some work primarily in the lab, but they may need to be available day and night to evaluate fresh evidence as it comes in, which could result in working a night shift. Others work mostly in the field, being available to assist with criminal investigations at all hours, and some split their time between the field and the lab. Forensic technicians handle things like physical and trace evidence, ballistics, DNA analysis, and autopsies, depending on their areas of specialty and interest.
The work of a forensic technician starts with the collection of evidence. He or she travels to the site where the evidence is found, documents the conditions with a camera or the assistance of a photographer, and carefully collects and marks the evidence before bringing it to the lab, logging it in, and analyzing it or passing it on to another forensic technician or lab for analysis. After the analysis, the technician who performs the analysis writes it up, highlighting key information which could help investigators, and the evidence is put into storage while the report ends up in the file relating to the crime. The technicians who collect and analyze the evidence may also be called upon to testify about the evidence in a court of law.