Common Job Titles for Criminalists

By Douglas P. Lyle

Criminalist is a relatively new term and one that’s not easy to define. It covers a wide range of abilities, responsibilities, and training. Some, such as serologists and chemists, are scientists, while others, such as fingerprint and firearms examiners, are likely to be ex-police officers who have no true scientific training. Still others are technicians with on-the-job training.

No matter what their specialty or education, the bottom line is that criminalists work with evidence. That can mean a lot of things, from looking for poisons in blood samples to authenticating written documents, but all of it falls under the banner of criminalist.

In spite of what you see on TV and in the movies, criminalists aren’t cops (although, in some cases, they are former police officers). They don’t carry guns, interrogate suspects or witnesses, or make arrests. They don’t treat the injured or deal with a dead body. They collect and analyze evidence. That’s it.

Common job titles for criminalists include the following:

  • Crime-scene investigator: These are the CSI guys and gals who visit the crime scene to locate, collect, protect, and transport any and all evidence to the crime lab. They document the scene by sketching and photographing it, unless there is a sketch artist or photographer on the scene to take over this duty at their direction.

  • Latent print examiner: These specialists examine fingerprints as well as palm and footprints and compare them with prints obtained from suspects, other crime scenes, or print databases.

  • Firearms examiner: The duties of this individual include examining and identifying firearms, comparing bullets and shell casings, and searching for and identifying gunshot residue.

  • Tool-mark examiner: Like fingers, tools leave behind distinct markings that may connect them to a crime scene. Tool-mark examiners compare these marks to suspect tools.

  • Document examiner: These experts examine various documents to determine their authenticity and authorship and to look for any alterations in a document’s original content. They may also be asked to identify whether a particular typewriter or copier produced a certain document.

  • Trace evidence examiner: These specialists analyze and compare hair, fibers, glass, soils, and paints to determine their type and origin.