"Criminalists" are generally responsible for analyzing samples from crime scenes to help reconstruct the crime, ultimately to identify the person responsible. They are typically employed by a city, state, or county police department and work closely with both detectives and laboratory associates on criminal investigations.
Their work is highly specialized, but can encompass a wide range of tasks within an investigation. Important skills include technical writing, forensics, fingerprinting, computer skills, and close attention to detail. Samples recovered by police detectives are brought to the laboratory for analysis by criminalists working with the department, and these samples usually consist of physical evidence such as hair, skin cells, or fingerprints. Criminalists must use forensic equipment and techniques to analyze these samples to obtain relevant results for the case. Some of the techniques used in this process include oblique lighting, laser fluorescence illumination, and selective wavelength filtration. After samples are analyzed, a report detailing findings is created and submitted to the detective in charge.
Because most of the work performed by criminalists is technical in nature, specialized education is necessary for this position. Minimum requirements may include a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or forensic science, and those with experience in forensic science are often preferred by employers.
Work is done in a sterile laboratory environment, usually within a police department. Criminalists generally work Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, although this can vary based on the needs of a case. Criminalists work with associates and assistants, and the size of the team generally depends upon the size of the police department. Associates report to the head of forensics, who in turn reports to the police chief.