Computer technology has been both a bane and a benefit to law enforcement. Computer technology has created an entire new realm of criminal activity for law enforcement to deal with–in the form of hackers and Internet predators. Those same technical advancements have increased the power and range of law enforcement to capture criminals. Most police forces, local sheriff departments and government agencies are computerized and employ some form of technology in their everyday crime-fighting efforts. From laptops in squad cars to community online services and accessible databases, law enforcement incorporates the latest technology when budgets allow.
Law enforcement officers with notebook computers in their squad cars can easily access databases to check credentials of motorists and individuals they interview at crime scenes. They can write and send reports while the events are still fresh. Mobile electronics are used to catalog evidence at crime scenes and to manage the evidence once it’s transferred to the police facility. Portable crime scene technology can help investigators identify fingerprints and other evidence on the site, allowing the officers to move quickly to apprehend the perpetrators.
Agencies utilize encrypted emails to communicate across agency lines to work together to solve crimes. Missing person reports, fugitive alerts and unsolved crimes can be posted to secure law enforcement websites to allow international cooperation. Gang-related activity, sex offenders and terrorist activities can easily be broadcast to law enforcement agencies worldwide immediately, limiting the amount of time others need to respond to requests and to post the necessary alerts to their own officers. Digital radio frequencies are being used to coordinate first responders and other law enforcement agencies that need to communicate simultaneously in certain situations.
Advanced global positioning satellite (GPS) technology and cell phone ubiquity has provided law enforcement officials with additional resources to track and investigate criminal activity. By incorporating tower triangulation, most cell phone users can be traced to a location that is relatively accurate. Emergency call systems and 911 operators can trace a cell phone call as quickly as they can trace a land line call. Vehicles equipped with GPS equipment can be tracked as long as the device remains activated. Small GPS tracking devices can be planted on suspects to track movements. Geographic information systems (GIS) are utilized to map the movements of criminals and their activities as well as to store the information for later use. Most wireless phones have GIS technology embedded, which further adds to the ease in which movements can be tracked.
One large advantage that law enforcement now enjoys thanks to modern computer technology is the ability to connect information databases from various law enforcement agencies. Where a suspect used to be able to jump state lines to avoid detection, computers make it much easier for officers to be aware of crimes outside their jurisdiction so that patterns can be detected, and criminals can be tracked with the assistance of other agencies.
Modern cameras not only allow law enforcement many more options in identifying suspects at a crime scene, but digital memory also allows for much larger amounts of data to be stored more efficiently over a long period of time. The footage that is pulled off of the surveillance system is usually of better quality than the analog tapes of yesteryear. Computers can now clean up the image to get a clear rendering of a suspect’s face for either an ID or for court evidence.
When a suspect goes on the run from law enforcement, he will still frequently seek out old friends, relatives and colleagues so that he can receive help in his flight. Police officers can now locate the names and possible addresses of potential contacts over the Internet, where social pages like Facebook and other Internet sites offer a large assortment of personal information about many suspects that is beneficial to police investigations.
Bullet Identification Technology
While forensics experts are already very skilled at analyzing the characteristics of bullets and shell casings that were used at the scene of a crime, new technology allows a laser engraving to be conducted on both the projectile of a bullet and the inside of the shell casing that can later be scanned and traced back to the store and the specific ammo box that it originally came from. While this won’t prove a suspect did the shooting in an investigation, it will allow for detectives to have a starting point. In the past, they may have been working without solid leads.
Computer technology now allows for DNA to be analyzed and compared so that suspects can either be matched to a scene of a crime or they can be eliminated. The DNA that is found in blood, saliva, skin cells, hair and fingernails is much more accurate than traditional fingerprints in both identifying and ruling out suspects when DNA evidence is found on a crime scene. Not only has DNA technology contributed to sending many criminals to jail, but it has also resulted in the release of suspects who were found to be innocent.