4 Inventions that Changed the Face of Criminal Justice

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As technology continues to advance, the world of criminal justice continues to see some significant changes. The following discoveries and inventions have had major impacts on solving crimes and prosecuting cases.


Image via Flickr by cogdogblog

Even in ancient times, fingerprints were stamps of individuality. In fact, it’s been proven that the Babylonians would press their fingerprints into clay for business transactions. In 1892, Argentinian police officer Juan Vucetich developed his own system of fingerprinting that he used when assisting on a case where two young boys were brutally murdered.

The mother’s boyfriend was the original suspect. However, when Vucetich compared the bloody fingerprint found at the scene to people the boys knew, it matched the mother’s fingerprints exactly. She confessed. Vucetich named his system comparative dactyloscopy, and it’s still used in many Latin America countries today.

DNA Fingerprinting

While fingerprints have been used for many centuries, DNA fingerprinting is a relatively new technique. Dr. Alec Jeffreys was the first to discover this biological material that makes up human life. On September 10, 1984, Jeffreys quickly realized that the “blurry mess” he was looking at was our complex DNA. In the years since, DNA fingerprinting has been used in courts as part of paternity suits, immigration violations, and violent felonies such as murder and rape. In many cases, it has even led to the exoneration of wrongfully convicted people.

Databases for DNA and Fingerprint Samples

As DNA fingerprinting became more popular, those in the criminal justice field needed a way to easily scan through the millions of samples and find a match. As of 2014, the National DNA Index (NDIS) has over 10 million offender profiles, and the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) can quickly scan through the databases and search for a match. Both NDIS and CODIS were established in 1998. They have come up with 190,500 confirmed matches and aided approximately 182,800 investigations.

Databases don’t just help with DNA samples though; The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) has completely done away with the messy ink and fingerprint cards that were once analyzed by hand. Now, law enforcement professionals scan fingerprints into the computer system, and AFIS can search and retrieve fingerprints from all over the country in less than 30 minutes.

Predictive Policing

Perhaps the newest advancement in the field of criminal justice is predictive policing. Budget cuts in California have forced the Santa Cruz Police Department to come up with new ways of serving the public at a lower cost without force. In 2010, the city started¬†implementing an algorithm that it believes will predict “after crimes” that occur after the first crime.

Using the same formula that predicts earthquake aftershocks, they were able to see that criminals typically stick to the same areas. Using this information, they can predict hot spots for crimes such as burglaries, drug crimes, gang violence, aggravated assaults, and batteries. With this information, police know which areas need extra patrols and can sometimes stop crime before it even starts.

From solving cases to preventing crime before it happens, these inventions and advancements have major impacts in the field of criminal justice.