If you have watched CSI, then you’d have a rough idea of what forensic investigators do. Forensic investigators, sometimes known as crime scene analysts, are employed to collect, identify, classify and analyse physical evidence from crime scenes. The work is done either on location at a crime scene or in the crime laboratory.
A forensic investigator’s job starts from the moment a crime is committed. The forensic investigator goes to the crime scene and secures the area. This means he or she makes the area out of bounds to outsiders who may contaminate the evidence. The investigator takes photographs of the scene and any evidence found. He or she may also draw diagrams or measure the scene. The forensic investigator collects the evidence carefully and goes back to the lab to write a report on the event.
The evidence could be anything from a finger print, a foot print in the mud, hair fibres, half-eaten food with bite marks, murder weapons and anything else that is related to the crime.
The work continues with analysing the evidence. Things do not happen as quickly as they appear on TV. The forensic investigator has to go through meticulous procedures with the evidence. It could take a very long time, and sometimes only after a very laborious effort does the investigator get any result from the find. Where there is a corpse, the investigator must also be present for autopsies.
When all is done, the forensic investigator must sometimes appear in court to testify about the results of the investigation. This is usually when the prosecutors want to prove that a murder – and not a suicide – has occurred or when they want to show that a certain piece of evidence points to a specific suspect.
To meet the demands of the job, a person who chooses to be a forensic investigator must be able to withstand seeing blood and corpses. An emotional disposition will not go down well since the person may become too affected to do his or her job efficiently. The person must be analytical, look at the crime scene objectively and reconstruct the crime using the evidence available. That makes it seem like a high-level jigsaw puzzle.
Since the work is time consuming and detailed, the person must also be very patient. Patience is essential since the work may take months to be completed. The case is not resolved in just one episode like it is on TV. Hard work is part and parcel of the job. Organisational skills are important, since it is crucial to document and store evidence correctly.
While the forensic investigator may be orderly, the work itself is not. The hours are irregular and the challenges change with each unique case.
For many in the field, the reward is in helping to solve a crime. It may not always be as dramatic as a murder case where the experts help put the criminals behind bars. Sometimes simple forensic investigations can reveal the order of events in an accident, and the exact cause of death, and thus provide relief and closure for the grieving family.
The forensic investigator has to undergo training first as an assistant before becoming a fully-fledged forensic investigator. The process takes a few years. In Malaysia, there are very few forensic experts and so there is a big demand for experts in this field.