Criminal investigations have undergone a profound transformation in recent years, partly due to technological innovations. Advanced digital tools and techniques have revolutionized how criminal investigators and forensic experts approach evidence collection, analysis, and interpretation when building a criminal case.
Those motivated to work in criminal investigations are naturally interested in technology and criminal justice. However, they also need an education in the foundations of criminal investigation, including theories of investigation, crime scene conduct, and the collection and preservation of physical evidence.
Understanding the best practices in criminal investigation, including the use of technology, opens the door to careers in many criminal justice fields, including positions in law enforcement, crime labs, corrections, and the private sector.
The History of Technology and Criminal Justice
Those who want a criminal justice career may have first felt inspired by the deductive powers of fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple or, for the youngest readers, the adventures of The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Others may have learned about the connection between science and crime-solving through nerdy forensic entomologist Gil Grissom in the original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Reality is less dramatic than those fictional adventures but no less interesting. An education in criminal justice teaches students how to apply best practices of criminal investigation honed over many years by experts. That includes using technology to improve the chances of solving a case.
There’s a long history involving technology and criminal justice. One of the best-known is fingerprint analysis. Starting in the late 19th century, scientists developed systematic classification and analysis of fingerprints. This breakthrough gave investigators a reliable method for linking individuals to crime scenes. The development of automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) in the mid-to-late-20th century accelerated the identification process.
In another example, the invention of the comparison microscope by Calvin Goddard in the 1920s forever changed ballistics analysis. This instrument allowed experts to examine and compare bullets and cartridge cases, determining if they were fired from the same weapon. More advanced tools, such as the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS), have enhanced the speed and accuracy of ballistics analysis.
Other technology that changed criminal justice includes the invention of radio, which led to better communications between police officers. The establishment in 1948 of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences spread the application of forensics in law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Camera technology also has helped police work evolve. As noted by Open Fox, a software company that specializes in providing technology to law enforcement agencies, “The law enforcement industry has worked hard to develop tools and solutions for better officer protection. Some of the most popular tools used for this purpose include dash and body cameras.” These cameras help protect officers by capturing and storing videos of incidents and interactions with other vehicles, during traffic stops, and in one-on-one interactions with suspects and others at crime scenes.
Latest Technology in Criminal Justice
In the modern world, technology and criminal justice work hand-in-hand. Perhaps no breakthrough since fingerprint analysis has impacted law enforcement quite like DNA analysis. Advancements in DNA sequencing technology have dramatically reduced the time required for analyzing biological evidence, allowing forensic scientists to identify suspects more quickly and accurately. Also, DNA databases are invaluable resources for matching crime scene samples to potential offenders, enabling investigators to better solve cold cases and identify serial criminals.
Forensic imaging and visualization have also advanced criminal investigations. These innovations continue to evolve, including digital photography, 3D laser scanning, and aerial drones equipped with high-resolution cameras. These tools enable investigators to capture detailed and accurate visual representations of a crime scene, preserving crucial evidence for further analysis.
Data analytics and pattern recognition—driven by artificial intelligence—allow for analyzing vast amounts of digitally-generated data. For example, software using sophisticated algorithms can now analyze vast volumes of CCTV footage, mobile phone records, and social media posts, searching for patterns and correlations. This information can aid in identifying suspects, establishing timelines, and reconstructing the sequence of events.
The NMU Global Campus BS in Criminal Justice
As part of its online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, NMU Global Campus offers students the opportunity to choose from various criminal justice elective courses. One of those, Criminal Investigations, provides an overview of the methods used in the scientific interpretation of evidence, evidence preparation, and pursuit of investigative leads.
The course also covers the theory of investigation, crime scene conduct, collection and preservation of physical evidence, and introduction to criminalistics and crime scene processing.
The Criminal Investigations course is one example of how the 100% online degree program prepares graduates for a wide variety of jobs in the criminal justice system, including positions in law enforcement, crime labs, corrections, and the private sector.
Graduates of the BS in Criminal Justice move on to many jobs, including police detective, crime lab analyst, and fish and game warden. They can also work for private employers, such as large retailers, who focus on loss prevention.