If you’re searching for a career in forensic ballistics you’re obviously interested in forensics itself and firearms. This exciting division of forensics was probably first employed in Court to steer towards a conviction in London in 1835. Since then, this science has certainly become considerably more challenging.
Forensic ballistics involves the collection, identification, classification and analysis of evidence in relation to firearms in criminal investigations. This may involve identifying tool marks (or breech marks) that can be transferred from the weapon to a fired bullet and bullet fragments as well as the trajectory of the bullets fired. Other areas include gun powder residue analysis, fingerprints, fibres and blood associated with the weapon or bullets. As with many areas of forensic science, ballistics works closely with other departments including the law enforcement agencies.
The firearm itself does not need to be located to obtain a match, and indeed, this match doesn’t always require a lot of effort on the part of the forensic ballistics expert. The FBI and the specialist Firearms-Toolmarks Unit, keep a fully integrated national database referred to as ‘Drugfire’. When facts are put into the database, it will seek a match with other information and flag this up to the user.
If you’re considering a career in forensic ballistics and expecting a top salary, forget it! Once you leave college, and depending on any past experience you may have, you may expect an average of between 22000 to 35000 dollars in the United States. Increments are typically paid every six months or so depending on how you advance. The income is low as you continue to be in training for a minimum of a couple of years after you start, so don’t expect to be heavily associated with anything too serious to begin with.
Your on-going training will involve a considerable amount of further reading on all relevant areas of law such as identifying firearms, wound analysis, different ammunition etc. You will also need to attend seminars and courses to make sure you understand how to handle evidence, the best way to safety assemble and disassemble firearms and microscope techniques. You will end up amply trained in how guns and ammunition are manufactured, how to give expert testimony in court and also attend many more lectures and seminars – much like being back in college! As with any forensics career, learning is dynamic as new approaches and machinery is constantly evolving.
A career in forensic ballistics is just that, a career for life. If you’re a bit uncertain, think hard before going down this road as it is a long one. It will be your job to thoroughly investigate the evidence and try and keep a pace ahead, and when required, to give clear and explicate evidence in court.