If you’ve ever seen a drawing of a crime scene, a crime suspect, or the victim of a crime, you may have wondered where that drawing came from. Forensic artists are highly-trained specialists that are experts in the reconstruction of crime scenes, bone structure, and witness descriptions of criminals. This may be a great career path for you if you are artistically inclined and capable of working in stressful situations.
Learn how you can put your artistic skills to use in law enforcement. Contact the schools below that offer criminal justice programs in your area to learn more!
Forensic Artist Job Description
As a forensic artist, your days may be spent working for police departments, federal agencies, and investigative firms. Because the skills of a forensic artist are not needed on a constant basis, you may work for many different departments and agencies to fill your schedule. This means that this career may require extensive travel and on-call hours. There are quite a few educational routes you can follow to become a forensic artist, making this a popular path for people who already have a career in criminal justice. In some cases, you can use your forensic artist skills to flesh out your existing credentials as a criminal justice professional.
As you may know, the first 24 hours in a criminal investigation are the most important. That’s why forensic artists often work on an on-call basis. Immediately after a crime is reported and a victim or witness is brought in, you may be expected to communicate with them and help create a composite sketch. This composite sketch is then used in law enforcement efforts to catch a perpetrator. You may also be called to crime scenes or to examine a deceased person’s body to make a facial reconstruction. What is expected of you can change from day to day, depending on the needs of your hiring agency.
It’s clear that, as a forensic artist, you must be calm in stressful situations and able to stomach gruesome or morbid sights. Your job is to assist your criminal justice agency and help the victims, which requires you to stay mentally strong. Not only do artist sketches have a higher success rate than computer-generated images, they often lead to a cathartic sense of relief for victims and witnesses. She notes that forensic artists are most often hired in large cities with sizable law enforcement budgets. Your artistic skills and criminal justice knowledge can keep your community safer.
How to Become a Forensic Artist
Most forensic artists are already involved in law enforcement, so you may wish to attend a police academy or earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Artistic skill is important, of course, but familiarity with the field of criminal justice is even more crucial. It’s easy to contaminate a crime scene, taint a witness’ testimony, or incorrectly take in police feedback if you have no experience in law enforcement. The first step is to truly get a foot in the door in a criminal justice agency. This may mean becoming a police officer, administrative assistant, crime scene technician, or investigator.
Once you’ve started your criminal justice career, you can buckle down on forensic art. If you’re already skilled at many types of art, you may not need an additional degree. However, if you just have an interest in art, you may wish to get a bachelor’s degree in art. Whether or not you pursue a degree in art or not, you do need to take coursework in composite drawing. Composite drawing is sketching the image of a person that you’ve never seen before based on the description provided by a witness or victim. There are often workshops or training seminars hosted by criminal justice agencies and continuing education providers. You may also wish to complete training in facial reconstruction and image enhancement. Facial reconstruction involves reconstructing the facial appearance of a deceased person whose face may be decayed or otherwise damaged.
Though certification is not a requirement for forensic artist jobs, you may find it helpful when you begin looking for jobs. The International Association for Identification has a certification program for forensic artists that requires 80 hours of relevant coursework.
Forensic Artist Salary and Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 15,400 forensic science technicians in the United States. This group includes forensic artists. By 2026 there will be an estimated 18,000 forensic technicians, or 17% growth, so the field is growing faster than average.
The BLS estimates indicate that the average salary for a specialist in this field is $57,850 as of 2017. However, salaries for forensic technicians do vary significantly between states. In Texas, for example, the average salary for a forensic science technician is $52,420 per year. California technicians claim an average income of $82,650 per year. In Florida, where the cost of living is fairly low, the average salary is $50,620 per year.
Interested in other careers in forensics? Find out more: How to Become a Forensic Pathologist