What does a forensic technician do? (With skills and salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 June 2022

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Forensic science is a vital field of study to gather evidence following criminal activity. Forensic technicians provide support for various forensic tasks, including chemistry, biology and toxicology. If you're considering a science-based career in the police or a private lab, forensic science may be an ideal option for you. In this article, we answer 'What does a forensic technician do?', explain the key responsibilities of this role and define the salary and qualifications for a job as a forensic technician.

What is a forensic technician?

A forensic technician is a professional who works alongside public services like the police and fire service to build scientific evidence. This role involves working in a laboratory setting and on-site at the scenes of crimes, using tools and equipment to gather and then test and analyse samples, such as blood, hair, clothing fibres, weapons and glass fragments. Forensic scientists typically work in a larger team and specialise in a particular area of forensics, including biology, chemistry or digital forensics.

Forensic scientists start by gathering evidence from a crime environment while maintaining the crime scene with sterile equipment and clothing. This evidence received analysis in a lab to conduct different tests. Forensic scientists typically work alongside forensic pathologists and may use materials from an autopsied body to conduct additional tests and gather evidence. Certain cases may involve the testing and examining of bodily fluids for drugs, alcohol or DNA, such as in suspected rape cases.

Related: Types of forensic science (plus responsibilities and skills)

What does a forensic technician do?

Forensic technicians work as part of a larger forensic team to attain evidence from various samples. For example, a forensic pathologist may autopsy a body, providing samples for analysis to identify the individual through DNA. Some of the key responsibilities include:

Analysing samples for toxicology

Forensic scientists may examine different tissue samples and chemical evidence to identify toxicology. For example, hair tests allow forensic technicians to identify the recent use of illegal drugs in a sample. Toxicology results can also help identify poison or consumed chemicals and flammable substances on different materials.

Performing DNA profiling and blood grouping

DNA profiling and blood grouping are standard tools used by the police to provide evidence of a person being at the crime scene. For example, blood at a murder scene may undergo tests for DNA to identify if any organic material came from a different source. Blood grouping provides a preliminary idea of the blood group of the individual, which can also support other evidence in court.

Related: How to become a fingerprint technician (with skills)

Examining splash patterns and particle distribution

Forensic scientists at the scene of a crime may examine blood splatter or other splash patterns to identify the movements and actions in the area of an attack. Particle distribution is a similar technique to help identify where explosives or firearms have been fired. These patterns provide evidence about the positioning of people involved in a crime to support other case evidence at a trial.

Recovering data from electronic devices

Digital forensic specialists access smartphones, computers and other digital devices to access evidence and information stored within the system's memory. For example, a digital forensic technician may thoroughly check computers for communication between different criminal groups. Digital forensics is a specialist skill and often involves working alongside cybercrime units and expert digital teams instead of in the field.

Attending the scene of a crime

Forensic technicians attend the scenes of crimes when they work alongside public services. By going into the field, forensics teams can safely remove evidence using sterile equipment and clothing while keeping the crime scene's integrity. Forensics are typically the first people on the scene following police or firefighters at a site of suspected criminal activity.

Giving scientific evidence in court

As scientific specialists, forensic technicians provide unbiased evidence in court to provide information to a jury or judge to determine the ruling and sentencing. For example, a forensic scientist may be called to provide evidence for blood splatter at a murder scene as a qualified professional. In larger forensic teams, the head forensic technician or senior team member may be the one to provide evidence in a court setting.

Types of forensic technicians

Forensic technicians may specialise in a particular area of forensics or apply their skill and knowledge to several areas depending on their workplace. For example, a forensic scientist working on criminal cases may provide evidence of toxicology, biology and chemistry. Some of the key areas of forensic science include:

Biology

Biology covers evidence recovered for crimes against people or animals, such as assault, rape or murder. Biological testing includes examining hair, clothing fibres, blood and other bodily fluids for DNA and other relevant evidence. These tests can consist of splatter testing and similar theories related to biological matter.

Chemistry

Chemistry covers crimes against property, such as arson or burglary cases. This area involves the examination of paint, glass and flammable substances in and around properties. Chemistry may also support forensic technicians in finding evidence of property damage, such as the use of petrol or pesticides to destroy the land.

Related: How to become a forensic chemist (skills and qualifications)

Toxicology

Toxicology examines restricted drugs and dangerous chemicals in and from an organic body. For example, forensic scientists may test hair for drug use or tissue specimens for evidence of poison. Toxicology tests are necessary for some drug-related offences, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Digital

Digital forensics is a specialist area of forensic study involving examining different devices and equipment, like smartphones or laptops. Digital forensic technicians use their technical skills to find evidence and hidden or deleted information. Possession of illegal images or terrorist planning are common crimes for digital forensics technicians.

Weapons

Weapons specialists may examine a crime scene and evidence such as gunpowder, wounds or the size of injuries to determine the weapon used in an attack. This evidence may be part of a trial in the courtroom and can support the police in sourcing a missing weapon from an assault or murder. Forensic technicians who specialise in weapons often have experience with ballistics, firearms and explosives.

How much can you earn as a forensic scientist?

The average salary of a forensic scientist is £24,806 per year. Forensic scientists may work with public services or in private laboratories, with differences in pay depending on the role and responsibilities. A senior forensic technician typically earns more than a trainee or recently graduated forensic scientist in a similar workplace.

Qualifications necessary to become a forensic technician

Many forensic science labs and employers require a degree in forensic science or a relevant subject. Choosing a forensic science course with accreditation from the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSFS) can provide the foundation to work in many different forensic science environments. If you'd like to achieve a senior position, completing a master's or a PhD in forensic science can offer more opportunities to work in specialised roles.

Related: What is a forensic science degree? (with career prospects)

Forensic technician skills

Forensic technicians work in a detail-oriented role, focusing on accuracy and attention to detail. For example, forensic scientists may work through hundreds of evidence samples and catalogue each in detail for evidence purposes. Some of the most beneficial skills in this role include:

Analytical skills

Analytical skills are valuable in forensic science positions, allowing for swift determination of which evidence is necessary and relevant to the case. For example, forensic technicians may use their analytical skills to identify which areas to focus on to gather evidence at a crime scene. Analysis is also valuable in creating theories surrounding evidence, such as blood splatter or positioning.

Attention to detail

Forensic technicians require close attention to detail to handle hundreds of pieces of evidence. For example, cataloguing and photographing are standard for all materials taken from a crime scene, requiring consistent organisation. Laboratory environments also require good attention to detail to manage different samples and ensure testing is uniform throughout the process.

Team and independent working

Skills in teamwork and working alone are equally crucial to forensic science positions. While technicians may work together at a crime scene collecting evidence, the work involved in testing is typically a single-person requirement. Working on more extensive tests, such as ballistics, as part of a group and working solo on smaller tests is vital for this role.

Written communication

Written communication is crucial for reporting evidence as a forensic technician. The findings of different tests are accurately included in evidence as a resource for use in court and during trials. Precise records are essential for legibility if someone requires access to evidence multiple years or decades after testing.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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