Law enforcement officers have more tools at their disposal today than ever before. From technological advancements like surveillance systems and facial recognition to digital forensics and body-worn cameras, criminal justice technology has changed the way law enforcement agencies handle crime scene investigations, probation and parole, and even courtroom appearances.
If you’re interested in a career in criminal justice, you’ll need to stay up to date on the latest technological advancements. With this expertise, you’ll be better positioned for long-term success in law enforcement, corrections, or any other criminal justice role.
WHAT IS CRIMINAL JUSTICE TECHNOLOGY?
Criminal justice technology refers to the advanced tools and resources that have become increasingly ubiquitous across law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Although crimes have been committed since the dawn of humankind, access to technologies for solving and prosecuting crime has evolved over time. For example, when the first police radios were introduced in the 1930s, this technology completely revolutionized the way beat officers communicated with control and dispatch on their routes while enhancing officer safety immensely.
Over the decades, additional technologies that we view as commonplace today changed the scope of law enforcement and criminal justice in significant ways. From patrol-mounted laptops and fingerprint scanners to robotics and smart devices, criminal justice technology has come a long way over the years.
TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN CRIME PREVENTION AND DETECTION
In recent years, several technological advancements have made it possible to improve crime prevention and enhance detection within the criminal justice system.
- Predictive Analytics and Data-Driven Approaches – This refers to the use of large data sets by law enforcement agencies to predict where crime is most likely to occur while identifying who is most likely to commit crimes or become the victim of crimes. These data-driven approaches can, in turn, be used to increase policing in these areas in an attempt to prevent future crimes.
- Surveillance Systems and Facial Recognition Technology – More police departments are also using video surveillance systems and facial recognition technology to identify potential suspects while creating biometric profiles. This technology can save law enforcement agencies a great deal of time and resources that would otherwise be spent manually combing through video surveillance footage and images.
- DNA Analysis and Forensic Advancements – DNA analysis has come a long way since the discovery of the double-helix structure in the 1950s. Today, new forensic advancements like DNA profiling and polymerase chain reaction processes are being used to solve cold cases.
TRANSFORMING INVESTIGATIONS AND EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT
Criminal justice technology isn’t just changing the way law enforcement prevents and detects crime. It’s also transforming the investigations side of law enforcement while increasing transparency and building a greater sense of trust between officers and members of the community.
Digital Forensics, Cybercrime Investigations, and Electronic Evidence Management
These days, cybercrime is more common than ever before. In fact, some of the latest research suggests that nearly half of all American adults have been victims of cybercrime in some capacity.
Fortunately, new technologies in digital forensics, cybercrime investigations, and electronic evidence management have also made fighting these crimes more productive than ever. Specifically, digital forensics makes it possible for investigators to put a stop to cyberattacks before more extensive damage can be done. Likewise, advancements in digital forensics now make it possible to identify what information has been compromised and how data can be kept safer in the future.
With more digital evidence being produced due to the increased prevalence of cybercrime, law enforcement agencies and investigators also need a reliable and secure means of storing digital evidence. Today, many agencies (including federal law enforcement agencies) rely on digital evidence management systems to keep evidence securely stored. These systems keep investigations of these crimes better organized and increase the chance of a successful prosecution and case.
Body-Worn Cameras and Their Impact on Transparency
Body-worn cameras have become increasingly common technology used by police officers, state troopers, and other law enforcement agents across the country. In fact, studies have found that nearly half of all general-purpose law enforcement agencies in the country now use body-worn cameras. In larger police departments, that number is as high as 80 percent.
Not only has body-worn camera technology become more affordable and accessible for police departments in recent years, but there has also been a growing demand by the general public for law enforcement agencies to be more transparent in their operations. When a critical incident occurs, body-worn camera footage can be integral in determining whether the actions of a police officer, state trooper, or other law enforcement agent were justified.
ENHANCING COURTROOM PROCESSES AND EFFICIENCY
The impact of criminal justice technology can be seen far beyond law enforcement. You can also see these technologies played out in the courtroom and legal process.
- E-Filing Systems and Digital Document Management – Many court systems across the United States now rely on electronic filing systems and digital document management, making it possible for case documents (such as motions and petitions) to be filed and stored digitally rather than on paper. These electronic systems make it much easier for documents to be shared and retrieved, keeping the criminal justice system running more smoothly while keeping attorneys informed on case progress.
- Courtroom Presentation Technology and Virtual Hearings – During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts relied on courtroom presentation technology to hold virtual hearings when it was not possible to conduct them safely in person. Even now that these restrictions have been lifted, some courts continue to hold virtual hearings and rely on other digital technologies to better accommodate schedules. It is not unheard of for courts to hold probation hearings, juvenile justice hearings, and parole hearings digitally, cutting down on the need for correctional officer staffing at a physical court appearance while better accommodating the often-conflicting schedules of judges, attorneys, witnesses, and testifying officers.
IMPACT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT AND OFFICER SAFETY
Recent advancements in criminal justice technology and criminology have also made the work of police officers and other members of law enforcement a bit safer and more productive.
Real-Time Crime Mapping and Predictive Policing
Using data-driven tools and real-time crime mapping, law enforcement agencies can readily implement predictive policing strategies to cut down on crime and (potentially) prevent it from happening. Through the automated analysis of crime data and other large data sets, police agencies can predict where crime is most likely to happen. From there, they can bolster their police presence and increase patrols to strategically prevent crime in problem areas.
Mobile Applications for Law Enforcement Operations
Law enforcement agencies’ access to mobile applications is greater than ever before. These applications can make it easier for them to do their jobs and potentially even prevent or mitigate crime. Many officers, for example, are now using apps that make it possible to do anything from collecting notes and issuing citations to completing and submitting reports. Meanwhile, other apps can help to identify the appearance of commonly abused prescription drugs, which can aid officers in their investigations while keeping illegal drugs and controlled substances off the streets.
Wearable Technology and Officer Safety Enhancements
Wearable technology has also come a long way in recent years, especially as it relates to officer safety. In addition to body-worn cameras, many departments are also implementing body-worn devices (such as watches and other wearable sensors) that can detect when an officer has a hard fall or may be otherwise injured on the job. These kinds of technological advancements can help to keep officers safer and ensure that a rapid response is deployed if an officer is believed to be in danger.
COLLABORATION AND INFORMATION SHARING
Technological advancements have also made it easier for police departments and other law enforcement agencies to collaborate and share information than ever before. Digital evidence, documents, and other files can now be shared more seamlessly with other departments or agencies, which can aid in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. In the past, this would have been difficult and time-consuming, as physical documents would need to be meticulously scanned or otherwise digitized to share with another agency.
FUTURE TRENDS AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGY
Only time will tell what the future holds for criminal justice technology—but with so many great advancements in just the last few years, things are looking promising.
AI and Machine Learning
Perhaps the biggest impact we can expect to see in criminal justice technology will come from advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Police departments and other agencies are already beginning to explore the ways in which AI solutions may assist law enforcement in making decisions or performing tedious tasks (such as sorting through evidence or surveillance footage). It is also believed that machine learning may be useful in helping agencies enhance their own predictive policing strategies to cut down on crime and better serve communities.
Criminal justice technologies have come such a long way in a very short period—and anyone interested in a career in law enforcement should be familiar with these new and emerging advancements.
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