Aside from criminal justice, sociology or criminology, other areas of disciplines are needed in law enforcement agencies, particularly in the crime lab department. Professionals with hard science degrees such as physics and chemistry are needed to collect, preserve and analyze samples of physical evidence significant to criminal investigations. Their analytical and problem solving skills will help link physical evidence to a suspect and solve crimes. To succeed in this highly competitive profession, students take advantage of internships or volunteer positions by gaining the real world experience on scientific investigative skills.
Criminalist Ronald Chang answers our questions on what we need to know about getting an internship in the Firearms Unit of San Diego County Sheriff’s Office Lab.
Internship Program Q&A:
What are the qualifications and academic requirements to apply as an intern with your program?
Technically, we don't have a true internship program. It's more of a volunteer position that we, in the firearms section, use to assist us in the up-keepings in the section. This usually happens when we are swamped with casework and our reference collections are not being updated. So technically there are no requirements other than passing a background check, but we as a unit decided that those who have or are in the process of getting a BS degree in a hard science (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, etc..) would have priority.
How many hours per week is your program and how long does it last?
We usually ask for 20 hours/week for 3-6 months.
Can you please describe what your program consists of including the of work done by interns and if there are job shadow rotations?
Up-keeping of our firearms, ammunition, and catalog reference collections. Prior to any work, we educate our volunteer in the basics of firearm safety and what the firearm unit does. We also would expose them to all that we do.
Please describe the ideal intern candidate?
An individual who has or in the process of getting a BS in a hard science that wants to pursue a career as a Criminalist. Someone willing to put in the time and effort to learn/understand what we do and what it takes to get there. We stress to our volunteers that this is a great opportunity to see if this is really what you want to do, but at the same time to treat it as if this were a try out for future employment.
Explain your intern selection process?
For us, those with science degrees are prioritized. We would then select a group to come in for an interview. Based on the interviews, we'd select who impressed us the most.
What suggestions do you have for someone looking and applying for an internship?
Know what the requirements are for the position post-internship and plan for it. For instance, if you want to be a Criminalist and you only have a Criminal Justice degree, start on getting a science degree before you apply for a Criminalist internship at a crime lab.
Be persistent and educate yourself as best you can in what you are applying for so you can ask good questions.
Practice being interviewed. How you present yourself and how you answer questions will be the deciding factor when it comes down to selecting an individual.