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The Reality of Forensic Science

Watching television shows like CSI may give the public a more glamorous picture of what it means to be a forensics professional. Crimes are committed and solved, and criminals tried and prosecuted neatly in the span of an hour, including commercials. Real life is hardly this easy for crime scene investigators and forensics professionals, and while the interest in shows like CSI may be partially responsible for the number of people filling those positions in police departments and law enforcement agencies, the reality of those positions is not as fast, easy or spotless as the television show may lead us to believe.

Forensic scientists and crime scene investigators work as much in a laboratory or at a computer as they do at a crime scene. Collecting the evidence of a crime is only part of the job, the rest of the investigation happens by cataloging information, testing blood, tissue or other samples, researching computer or phone records, or any other number of investigation tactics. None of these forensic specialties produce definite answers immediately, and each can take days or weeks, sometimes months, to process evidence. Once the evidence is processed and potential matches or other information is discovered, forensic scientists then are able to analyze the results to determine the value of evidence, how accurate the findings are, and potentially link a criminal to the crime.

There are also different specialties of forensics professionals. Forensic toxicologists test for drugs and other chemicals, forensic accountants investigate fraud and embezzlement, computer forensic specialists who find and preserve digital criminal evidence and forensic psychologists or profilers. Television may make it seem like there is only one or two forensics professionals in a law enforcement crime lab, but in reality, it takes an entire team to analyze evidence from crime in order to catch a criminal.

Forensics professionals may have one of the most dramatic and interesting jobs, thanks in part to television shows and movies, but these specialists are more than tools for quick answers to hard, sometimes unanswerable questions. The dedication, education and training involved in forensic science, while tough, can make the difference in the lives of many people, especially those who are personally affected by crime. Television may have one benefit to the field of forensics and crime scene investigation: it has ignited an interest in many people who want to help others in need by helping to solve crimes and even prevent more crime from happening.

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