The field of forensics is a specialty within law enforcement investigations that is itself composed of many different subspecialties. A forensic specialist is someone engaged in forensic work who has a particular area of expertise that they can apply to law enforcement. Forensic specialists do not just consist of crime scene investigators. Instead, each specialist is part of a larger team.
A forensic specialist typically has formal education and credentials in the field of his specialization. Forensics specialists obtain much of their training on the job also. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists three different areas of forensic specialization that people can follow as a career path. Forensic specialty areas include chemistry, fingerprinting and computer investigation. Other possible areas of forensic specialization include forensic psychology, forensic anthropology, crime scene photography, forensic accounting, forensic art and forensic document analysis, among others.
Forensic specialists are essentially experts or at least qualified practitioners in their respective field of specialization. For instance, forensic biologists typically have a bachelor's degree or higher in biology, but would not necessarily be considered an expert biologist in the same way that someone with a Ph.D. would be. Other specialists like forensic psychologists are experts in their field, given the fact that a Ph.D. is required to work as a psychologist. In any case, a bachelor's degree is required for many positions in forensics, although some fields like crime scene investigation or photography allow candidates to get into the field with an associate's degree.
The job duties of forensic specialists tends to vary by specialty. Some areas of specialization are scientific in nature and require a tremendous amount of laboratory analysis. For instance, the forensic scientists will perform complex lab tests to determine the chemical makeup of substances found at crime scenes. The forensic accountant, on the other hand, will examine financial documents looking for evidence of financial chicanery. Many of the specific day-to-day activities completed by forensic specialists are learned on the job through initial training either in a police academy, through an internship or by shadowing other specialists in the same field.
Forensic specialists can work in a variety of different settings. Police departments are only one venue in which these specialists can be found. Some work for government agencies like the FBI and CIA, while others work in the insurance industry or for law firms and individual attorneys. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some forensics specialists work as self-employed contractors, offering their services to multiple agencies and individuals at the same time. It is also not uncommon for forensics specialists to work full-time in their field of expertise while only serving as a part-time consultant on the side.