We have all seen them in movies. A person is a shot dead, and after some crime scene investigation, there is a ‘genius’ who is able to tell the kind of firearm and ammunition used by the shooter. Well, the genius is a forensic ballistics expert! Read on to learn more about what it takes to break into this profession.
What Do Forensic Ballistics Experts Do?
Their primary duties include:
- Visiting a crime scene to collect evidence – this may include spent cartridges, spent shell casings, and live ammunitions.
- Taking photographs of the crime scene.
- Analyzing the evidence in a forensic laboratory – from the analysis, they can tell the probable distance between the shooter and the victim, the angle of the shot, as well as the riffling pattern.
- Using computer programs to map or reconstruct the crime scene.
- Writing detailed reports of their analyses.
- Serving as expert witnesses in criminal proceedings.
Although fulltime forensic ballistic experts work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, they may be called in at any time to collect evidence from a crime scene. On the other hand, experts who run their own forensic laboratories have more control over their hours.
Regardless of work schedule, ballistics experts perform most of the duties in a laboratory environment, where they interact with microscopes, chemicals and computers.
Forensic ballistics experts earn as follows:
Annual Average Wage
San Francisco, California
New York, Manhattan, NY
Los Angeles, California
Source: Salary Expert
To become a forensic ballistics expert, you should earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or investigative forensics. Besides enhancing your understanding of the principals of physics, biology and chemistry, the degree also equips you with the knowledge of:
- Evidence handling
- Wound ballistics
- Firearms identification
- Crime scene searches.
Some of the schools offering this credential include:
- Columbia College, Chicago
- University of Maryland University College, Maryland
- The University of Tampa, Florida
Since these programs do not primarily focus on ballistics, it is essential to pursue additional courses in firearms technology. This will help you gain an in-depth understanding of the various types of firearms and ammunitions.
To be a competent forensic ballistics expert you need:
- Excellent investigative skills
- Strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
- An appetite for small details
- Strong laboratory skills
- Strong analytical skills
- Good report-writing skills
- Good presentation and speaking skills
- Good observation skills
- Good computer skills
- Emotional strength to work effectively in ghastly crime scenes
- Good practical and technical skills
- An interest in enhancing law enforcement.
After earning your credentials, you will certainly start out as a ballistics technician, working under experienced experts. As you gain experience, you will be assigned independent tasks that are more challenging.
Thereafter, you can earn a relevant professional certification, such as the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute’s Certified Criminal Investigator program.
You can also join the International Ballistics Society to gain access to ballistics symposia and other profession development resources.
If you are ambitious enough, pursue a master’s degree in forensic ballistics.
The employers of forensic ballistics experts include:
- Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI
- State police departments
- Private forensic science laboratories
- Ballistics consulting firms.
With vast experience and advanced credentials, you can become a lead ballistics expert in a law enforcement agency. You could also move into private practice by establishing a ballistics consulting firm.
Lastly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the use of forensic evidence in criminal trials is likely going to keep expanding though 2022. However, you should expect fierce competition for jobs since there is a high number of people looking to break into forensic science.
But if you have a deep interest in helping law enforcement agencies apprehend criminals and bring them to justice, finding employment as a forensic ballistics expert should not be a tall order.