Forensic Career Opportunities

Work at the Crime Lab
The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory requires a bachelor’s degree in a science for all areas of forensic analysis. Competition is often fierce for each opening, therefore, preference may be given to those applicants with an advanced degree or previous scientific work experience. Additionally, DNA analyst applicants must have completed coursework in biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and statistics. Applicants will undergo an interview, fingerprinting, background investigation, and polygraph test before hire. This process can take several months to complete. Persons interested in applying should submit a cover letter and resume/CV as well as fill out a job application through Human Resources. Click to learn more information about KCPD’s civilian hiring process.

Internships
College Juniors, Seniors or Graduate students can apply for a competitive summer internship position with the Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory. Intern applications are accepted for the summer beginning January 1st through February 1st of the year that is being applied for.

The following are requirements for the Summer Internship Program with the Kansas City Police Crime Lab:

– Copy of current and past college transcripts (cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher required)

– Two (2) letters of recommendation from professors and/or academic advisors

– Curriculum Vitae

– Short essay on why you should be selected as an intern and what section(s) of the laboratory is desired (Chemistry, Trace, DNA/Biology, Firearms, Digital Evidence, Latent Prints, Crime Scene)

– Items must be submitted via U.S. Mail to: Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory, 2645 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City, MO 64127, or sent electronically to Joshua.Heinen@kcpd.org.

– Once these are received and reviewed: Fill out an employment application and any additional forms required by Human Resources. Careers@kcpd.org will be able to guide you through these requirements.

Upon completion of these tasks an in person interview will be scheduled. If selected, the HR process will then begin. This process will include a polygraph examination and background investigation.

Volunteer at the Crime Lab
The Kansas City Police Department accepts auxiliary volunteers to help in many areas of the department. Volunteer positions are unpaid and can incorporate as many hours as the volunteer desires. Volunteers at the Crime Laboratory could involve:

Creating rape kits for hospitals | Filing case information | Assembling training materials | Preparing court-requested discovery files

If you are interested in volunteering at the Crime Laboratory, contact the KCPD Employment Section at 816-234-5400 about how to complete a Volunteer Application Form, making sure to indicate “crime laboratory volunteer” as the position. Previous lab experience is preferred.

Get a Career in Forensic Science
The KCPD Crime Laboratory often receives inquiries about employment opportunities in the field of forensics. If you have such an interest, here is some introductory information about the field as well as some pointers to locations with further information.

General Information

“Forensic science” is a broad term referring to nearly any application of scientific techniques to resolving an issue which might result in litigation (either criminal or civil). Several terms are used to refer to examiners in this field which are “forensic scientists,” “examiners,” or “forensic specialists.” Some broad areas that are commonly recognized:

Discipline Description Emphasis Area(s)
Crime Scene Investigation Process crime scenes for potential evidence,
document and collect any evidence found at scene.
general science
Chemistry Chemical analysis of substances chemistry
Trace Analysis Chemical, physical and microscopic characterization
and comparison of materials
chemistry/biology
Serology/DNA Typifying serological fluids or other biological materials chemistry or biochemistry;
molecular biology preferred for DNA
Firearms Identification and testing of firearms and their projectiles general science
Toolmarks Comparison of physical marks produced by various implements general science
Latent Fingerprints Processing for revealing and collecting fingerprints
and other patterns from objects
general science
Photography Use of specialized photographic methods to record and enhance
the quality of evidence.
general science

 

Note that these are technical positions where the objective should be uncompromising expertise. Although historically on-the-job training of non-professional persons was once considered acceptable to establish competence, now there is an expectation of a college degree or experience appropriate to the field; e.g., a chemistry degree for chemical analysis, or a degree in molecular biology for DNA analysis. In some areas such as firearms, toolmarks, and photography, experience and specialized training still play a greater role, but a degree in some field of science would normally be desirable to establish a formal background in scientific methods.

With recent dramatizations of crime laboratories, when a laboratory has an opening, it can be bombarded with many applications. In order to limit the number of possible interviews, education is often used as a filter. Therefore, the minimum requirement may be a bachelor of science in a general science; however, a master’s degree in forensic science or some other science may give the applicant a better chance of obtaining an interview.

There are also additional specialized forensic fields, such as toxicology or pathology. In our jurisdiction, these specialties are overseen by medical doctors and are not maintained in the laboratory itself.

Duties and Responsibilities

In some laboratories, criminalists may be expected to be generalists that perform actual examinations across a broad range of disciplines. The KCPD laboratory tends to categorize criminalists so they concentrate on performing actual examinations within a limited number of these specialties; for example, a forensic chemist may not be expected to perform a detailed toolmark comparison. Even if they are not expected to conduct the actual examination, all criminalists are expected to have familiarity with all specialties in terms of the significance of evidence and how it should be processed and preserved, both within the laboratory and at crime scenes.

Criminalists may be asked to respond to crime scenes to help interpret evidence at the scene and advise on processing or perform specialized processing. However, crime scene technicians specialize in evidence collection and usually handle all but exceptional samples.

Criminalists should also be able to produce detailed reports suitable for submission to investigators and legal representatives, and they should be able to evaluate and interpret real and hypothetical situations and defend them under cross-examination. The ability to support any conclusions in the face of adversarial debate (including investigators, the media, litigators, or their peers) should be the benchmark of any criminalist.

Also, don’t be misled by media dramatizations of the role of criminalists; there are boundaries between the responsibilities of criminalists, investigators (e.g., police personnel or insurance investigators), and the legal system (lawyers and judges). A good criminalist should be able to advise others of the import of the results of their observations and examinations, but they usually do not have unilateral power to drive an investigation or a prosecution. Normally it should be expected that everyone will contribute best within their area of expertise, but the interface can be a frustration when there is disagreement on how to proceed and the process becomes political rather than technical.

If you’re looking for some hard examples of the knowledge required, the American Board of Criminalistics has an online study guide for their general knowledge examination that includes several working references.

In general, be wary of commercial entities offering training or advice in entering the fields of forensic science. There are many good and reliable commercial training resources, but as with any popular technical career there may also be companies wanting your money more than they want to improve the field. In beginning your search, it may be better to focus on professional and academic organizations. However, also realize that some pure academics may not embody a great deal of practical experience, which is essential to developing and refining skills. In general, look for organizations that are populated and administered by working scientists and not non-technical persons. (Lawyers and law enforcement personnel are definitely part of the process to be respected, but verifiable practical expertise is a different quality than knowledge only by association.)

Also be aware that many forensic laboratories are associated with law enforcement agencies, and as such, in addition to your professional credentials there will likely be security and veracity concerns. Security checks such as a background investigation (which may include a polygraph examination) or job-related drug screening may be part of their hiring process and a condition for ongoing employment. You may wish to consider whether you would find such monitoring intrusive.

Below are links to other forensic science organizations that could be helpful:

American Academy of Forensic Sciences
The International Association for Identification
The American Board of Criminalistics
The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors – Laboratory Accreditation Board
The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors
Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission

In the Kansas City Metropolitan area specifically, there are a few working crime laboratories. These agencies can be accessed at the following links:

Johnson County, Kan., Sheriff’s Office Criminalistics Laboratory
Kansas Bureau of Investigation

The Missouri State Highway Patrol

There is a continuing need for good, conscientious people to enter the field of forensics. The staff of the KCPD Crime Lab hope the above information will assist in both your decision and, if you wish to pursue it, in finding a path to your desired specialty.