Being a Forensic Analyst

Published on August 25th, 2011
Being a Forensic Analyst

Sergeant Albert Wessels is an assistant forensic analyst with the South African Police Service. He works at the Forensic Science Laboratory and has been focusing on ballistics – which is the study of projectiles such as bullets – for approximately 10 years…

What does your job involve, and what are the pros and cons?
A forensic analyst does forensic investigations of firearms and toolmark (marks created by impact or pressure) related cases. The pros are that the field is continually evolving – there are new things and new ways of doing things every day – and the satisfaction of being able to speak for people who can’t, such as murder victims.

The cons are that it is often dirty and bloody work, you see violent crime scenes, have to attend post-mortems and the amount of crime you see out there is terrible.

What do you need to study?
If you want to be a forensic analyst, you’ll need a BA degree relevant to forensic science. You can also consider a BTech degree. You’ll be trained in-house before becoming fully qualified. This training is done over three years and will deal with the 12 levels that you have to complete. 

What’s the salary like?
The salary is based on your rank in the police service. When you start out, you can expect to earn R108 000 to R110 000 per year. Once you’re trained, you’ll receive a scarce skills allowance, which adds up to R12 000 for the year. There’s also a danger allowance, which is R400 per month.

What kind of person would enjoy this job?
You need an analytical mind to see and understand how things go together. You must be able to work independently and make a decision. You also need to be able to distance yourself from a situation and be objective.

Describe an average day.
The average day depends on the cases. You perform case-work, from investigating normal ammo to examining firearm mechanisms (including restoration and obliterated serial numbers). You deal with positive cases, compare fired cartridge cases and bullets against suspect firearms and do distance determination.

Attending post-mortems and the reconstruction of crime scenes is also part of your average day. Work usually starts at 07:30 and ends at 16:00, but it depends on the crime scene investigators. We also have to give expert testimony in court.

Original article written by Chantelle Graddige for the Feb 2008 SA Career Focus Magazine – www.sacareerfocus.co.za.