Criminal Justice Technology Overview


The criminal justice system is made up of three major players: law enforcers, courts, and corrections. Adoption of technology in the criminal justice system has been slow, however; technology has assisted the system players to undertake their duties effectively. Scientific innovations and technological development have led to improvement in service delivery. Crime trend has also changed with technology, calling for an improvement in criminal justice technology (Hillyard, 2004). This paper is divided into two parts where the first part discusses the evolution of criminal justice technology and the second part analyzes the future of technology in the criminal justice system.

Evolution of Criminal Justice technology

According to Foster, 2005 page 111, the evolution of the criminal justice system has taken three stages, namely, political, professional, and community policing. In the United States of America, the first technology used in the police force can be traced back to 1710 in Boston, when printing technology was used to publish police constable pocketbooks (Foster, 2005). More than a century later, Samuel Colt, innovated a multiple-shot revolver, which was used to take photos. Seventy-five years later, Samuels’s multiple-shot revolver and the printing technology were the only technology used by police. In 1854, the San Francisco court system accepted photographs as evidence of a crime. The police force of the time was composed of political appointees who had limited powers. This gave the period the name political policing era (Foster, 2005).

Fingerprints matching technology (FMT) as a crime identification tool were first used in the early 1900. The technology grew fast and by the 1920s the entire American police force had adopted the technology. In 1923, Pennsylvania established the first teletype whereas Los Angeles established a crime laboratory (Chapman, Uggerslev & Webster, 2003). The late 1920s saw the invention of a two-way radio system fitted on police vehicles. The two-way radios were of importance in improving communication among the police. During the same time, police management moved from patronage to civil service system. The move changed political influence on the police force and reformists of the time advocated for police force professional management. Highly learned professionals took high-ranking positions in the police and there was a change in day-to-day police management. The stage was called professional policing.

In the early 1930s, one-way automobiles were invented where police could receive calls, but could not enquire for clarification. Communities found the system better as they could offer crime information without being recognized. Foot and vehicle patrol reduced and a central point where police could be dispensed after a call was established. To appraise the efficiency of individual police officers, O.W. Wilson in the 1950s wrote a police manual called police administration (Foster, 2005). In the manual, police were performance was appraised on the number of calls received, how quickly an incidence was responded to crime and the chances of reoccurrence of a previously attended crime. To ensure high ranking, after attending a crime scene, police made sure they created good relations with the community around to avoid a reoccurrence. The police became more friendly and willing to serve communities. On the other hand, communities were willing to offer more information to the police. This was the start of community policing.

Technology has assisted the police in fighting crime efficiently. They can get tactical and strategic information that is used in detention, prevention, and arresting of lawbreakers (Hillyard, 2004). Technology has assisted police in surveillance. Community policing that was born from technology use, has increased the relationship between the police and the communities they are serving. The relationship has led to improved communication and information sharing that can be used to fight crime. Modern methods like GPRS System, electronic fingerprints and palm print, camera and wiretap surveillance, criminal record, and crime rate databases are breakthroughs in crime-fighting (Chapman, Uggerslev & Webster, 2003).

Future use of information technology in the Criminal Justice system

Scientific development innovations are evident in the criminal justice system. Currently, technology adoption in the police force is faster than in the early stages of technological development. From 1982 to 1st July 2003, only emergency agencies, Aviators, and Mariners were allowed to use emergency location transmitters (ELTs). However, on 1st July 2003, Federal Communication Commission (FCC), allowed the use of the technology in public domains. In supermarkets, goods are bar-coded for stock management. Cell phones generate electronic serial numbers (ESN), these two technologies are similar and are likely to be seen in the police force in the future. This means that almost everything will be fitted with an electric chip, through a process called chipping. In case of a crime, the chip will be used to give information about the crime and the offender.

Shortly, the use of a remote control information system (RCIS) is likely to be adopted by the police. This system will assist an officer in the communication dispatch center to follow real-time proceedings at the scene of the crime. An officer in the office can hear and see what is on the ground. The use of biometric technology to identify a human being started to be used with fingerprints. However, the technology is not fully exploited, there are other special features in every human being that can be used for identification. In the future facial recognition technology (FRT) is likely to be adopted.

The use of dataveillance technology is likely to be seen in the future. The technology records all transitions that a person undertakes. If a person is wanted, the technology can be used to trace back all the places visited and have a record of personal information. Such a system will assist in the offender’s identification and arrest. Earlier, police used cars fitted with computer systems to attend a scene of a crime. The computers were used to record data and access national crime databases. However, this trend is likely to change with the innovation of personal digital assistance technology (PDAT). PDAT are small gadgets that can be used to get information from national databases.

The use of satellite technology to scan and collect real-time data is likely to be implemented in the future. In this technology, light, and radar technologies will be used to see relatively small objects on the ground (Foster, 2005).


The adoption of criminal justice technology took a slow pace in the 18th century. However, after the recognition of the breakthrough that technology came about with, from the 19th century into the future it adoption is fast. Early criminal justice technology developed in three stages, namely, political policing, professional policing, and community policing. Currently, technology is used in crime detection, surveillance, identification, and information gathering. In the future, scientific innovations are expected to be adopted in the criminal justice system. Some of these technologies are remote control information system (RCIS), facial recognition technology (FRT), personal digital assistance technology (PDAT), dataveillance technology, and satellite technology among other technological innovations to come.


Chapman, D., Uggerslev, K., & Webster, J. (2003). Applicant reactions to face-to-face and technology-mediated interviews: A field investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 944-953. Web.

Hillyard, D. (2004). Technology and Privacy. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 17(1), 4-7. Web.

Foster, R. E.(2005). Police Technology. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.