Use of Technology in Criminal Justice
Most police departments across the country now supply their officers with some version of an in-car computer, often called a mobile data terminal. Some are even using mobile phone technology. Police dispatchers use a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software. Evidence technicians and custodians use automated inventory management systems to keep track of their evidence property rooms.
New digital video recording technology has made it affordable and practical to provide more officers with cameras, either in their car or carried on their uniform. These videos are then able to be used as evidence in court or a complaint investigation. Many systems allow for automatic wireless download when the car pulls into the station, reducing officer downtime and ensuring vital evidentiary data is recorded and logged as soon as possible.
Across the nation, patrol officers are using their computers to perform everyday functions. Arrest reports are increasingly required to be typed. Traffic citations, once handwritten, are produced electronically while a printer inside the patrol car supplies a copy for the violator. Even time reporting and payroll is often handled online. In many cases, not only are these reports produced electronically, but they are also transmitted electronically to reduce paper and increase efficiency.
Driver information and history are instantly accessible to officers on traffic stops. In several states online databases provide quick access to driver license photos, allowing officers to verify names of people they have stopped in the event the violator has forgotten his driver license or identification card.
Rapid ID systems are also making their way into the hands of law enforcement personnel. These tools allow officers to obtain biometric information from a subject, usually a fingerprint and have it compared to the FBI's criminal database. If the subject has any prior arrests, the fingerprints will show a match and instantly provide the identity of the person the officer is dealing with. It also provides information regarding history and outstanding warrants.
Evidence Property Reporting
Some agencies have moved their entire evidence property system online. Officers collect evidence and then log it into the online system before placing it into the appropriate facility. Specialized evidence technicians use the system to track and monitor the evidence and get it where it needs to go, either to the lab for analysis, to the state or district attorney's office, or into the property room for safekeeping.
Computer Aided Dispatch
Years ago, dispatchers used pen and paper and punch cards to keep track of case numbers, dispatch officers and log calls for service and activity. Now, sophisticated dispatch software is used. In many departments, GPS units integrated into officers' cars or computers report their position to their dispatch centers. This allows dispatchers to determine who is closer to a call for service, helping to ensure that citizens are assisted as soon as possible. Also, the dispatch centers can record every phone call and radio transmission and cross-reference them to corresponding case numbers and officer activity.
Criminology professionals working within the court system can take advantage of the automated case tracking systems. These online systems allow attorneys, judges, clerks and law enforcement personnel to gain quick access to important case and docket information. Prosecutors and public defenders can access arrest affidavits and witness information almost instantly as it is input, allowing for more time to prepare for cases.