A crime lab profession requires different skills and knowledge to acquire and apply modern technologies and investigate crime. It is possible to distinguish two subcategories in the crime lab profession: generalists, and those who specialize in one area. The main responsibilities of a crime lab professional are the analyses of evidence and advice on further investigation, evidence collection and reporting, interpretation of real and hypothetical situations, cross-examination, and synthesis of data. The main duties of crime lab professionals are latent print examinations, firearms, and other evidence examinations, controlled substance examinations and DNA testing, etc. (Bureau of Forensic Services, 2007). Crime scene analysis, because of its subjective nature, presents a definite challenge in developing a concept of how to test crime scenes. The crime lab professionals after considerable thought and discussion come up with strategies in dealing with external proficiency tests for crime scene investigators covering. Attending the scene of the crime, crime lab professionals make an initial assessment of it. They will secure the scene to an extent based on the information available at the time. A crime scene investigator or a team of crime scene investigators who will undertake the crime scene investigation is normally accompanied by a crime lab professional. The size of the crime scenes dictates the number of resources allocated to the particular incident. In this case, a crime lab profession requires on-the-spot assessment, decision-making, and sometimes an innovative approach. Provided this is done applying scientific principles, and fully recorded, this should meet quality standards. It can also be expected that there will be an increased need for, and demand for, proficiency tests for field-testing (Langford, 2005).
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In recent years, special attention is given to DNA testing and analysis. About the identification of persons, fingerprint comparisons and DNA profiles are the most likely to establish the individuality and therefore the identity of a person. A crime lab professional identifies and examines class characteristics and similarity of those features that group things into a common class requiring further examination to see if there are indicators of similarity which allow screening before a more detailed examination is made. For instance, all questioned documents involved in a particular investigation are submitted to the laboratory for examination (Langford, 2005). This is important since questioned documents are identified by a comparison of similarities, plus an absence of divergences or dissimilarities. To make an identification, sufficient handwriting, typewriting, or other evidence must be available on which to base an opinion. This means that all questioned material is needed, as well as sufficient exemplars or known specimens (Bureau of Forensic Services, 2007).
The main rewards of this career choice would be prestige and personal accomplishments. Career choice gives primary emphasis to the personality characteristics that predispose an individual to seek a career of a given type. There will be greater job satisfaction and fulfillment and a lesser tendency to change jobs throughout the career. These various orientations, including occupational values, have been considered important by crime lab professionals, insofar as they influence nonvertical dimensions of occupational mobility. Occupational prestige is important both in terms of its characterization of the occupational structure and its representation of intergenerational mobility. Individuals identify the occupations they most prefer by assessing the compatibility of different occupations with their images of themselves. Compatibility is what is usually meant by the terms congruence and person-environment fit. The greater the perceived compatibility (suitability), is the stronger the person’s preference (Langford, 2005). Individuals may seek out but rarely achieve compatibility with all elements of self. Occupations that conflict with core elements of the self-concept will be most strongly rejected.
The negatives of this profession are health hazards (work with chemicals and other substances, stress, and work overload). The well-being of the crime lab professionals is the primary responsibility of the crime scene manager. He/she must be aware of the fatigue and well-being of his crime lab professionals. Appropriate protective clothing and equipment should be made available. Breaks should be organized for the crime lab professionals and refreshments should be on hand during those breaks. Scene guards should also be part of the crime scene operation regardless of the area they originate from. Long hours and job security are also an important part of a crime lab profession (Langford, 2005).
Today, there is a growing trend towards both university-based recruit education and ‘civilianization. Many universities began to offer forensic science in their programs during the 1990s, largely as attractors to increase enrolments (Langford, 2005). Senior forensic science practitioners lectured on the programs admit the quality of the students to the extent that they begin to advocate the employment of graduates as crime lab professionals. Usually, at a minimum a Bachelor’s degree is required: it can be chemistry, biology, or physics. A Master’s degree is preferable but obligatory. There are no certain standards in forensic education, so a specific lab may require different skills and education. Still, the main FBI requirements are biochemistry, molecular biology, human genetics, statistics, etc. A scientific approach is important for a crime lab profession and involves critical thinking and the ability to modify a core method to address a specific situation. It should be self-evident that such an approach lies at the very heart of crime scene investigation (Langford, 2005).
The opportunities for a student in this field can be explained by the fact that the crime lab profession is real forensic science, and at least the more complex and major incidents demand a scientific approach requiring personnel with appropriate basic science and specialist training. Strong leadership and management by the forensic community will be required if appropriate standards are to be developed and maintained. The emergence of field technologies demands that the person using these instruments must have tertiary science qualifications. These instruments cannot be used as ‘black boxes’ if their full potential is to be realized. A lab crime professional should consider future recruitment and training strategies to meet this changing paradigm. The internship is required by many employers because it ensures a high level of knowledge and skills of the candidate (Bureau of Forensic Services, 2007). Standards of practice must vary across the spectrum in terms of capability, and how well this ‘capability’ is practiced. Internal and external proficiency testing programs have also been developed as enabling elements of the accreditation program. It is important for a student, to be aware of new technologies and methods used in this field because emerging technologies will transform the face of the crime lab. Modern technology enables practitioners to look for opportunities to improve their discipline by examining and comparing procedures, processes, and the reporting methods that other fields employ (Langford, 2005). This is not proposing that one expert must deal in all fields of evidence. On the contrary, it is by practitioners developing an overall perspective, which will enable them to continue performing their particular expertise independent from one another.
- Bureau of Forensic Services (2007).
- Langford, A. et al, (2005). Practical Skills in Forensic Science. Prentice Hall.