Technological Advances
in the Criminal Justice Field

by Thomas Dworak, Sgt. (Ret.), Virtus Group

Technology is constantly advancing in the criminal justice field. Let’s jump back 30 years to see how far technology has progressed. I began in law enforcement in 1983. Computers were in their infancy and the agency I worked for had just received its first data terminal to run criminal histories, drivers’ licenses and license plates.

Learn more about our criminal justice programsMove ahead to present time and mobile video, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and in-car computers are commonplace. Smart phones have replaced pagers and bag phones.

The standards of a criminal justice professional require that they stay current in law, tactics and technology. To meet this standard one must seek continued personal and professional development. One way to achieve this is to earn an online criminal justice degree.

Here are some examples of emerging technology for the criminal justice profession:

Body Cameras:
Body cameras are being rushed into the criminal justice arena without thought, as a way to appease a vocal minority. The small, body-worn cameras will assist in telling a story but will only show what officers are facing. The cameras are not a panacea to provide the only answer in accountability.

Mobile Apps:
Smart phone apps continue to develop and more criminal justice apps are readily available through most mobile carriers. As the apps become more sophisticated they can be of great assistance as an investigatory tool. The ability to take pictures, notes and construct a diagram of a crime scene on a hand-held mobile device provides immediate data collection in the hands of the first-responding officer.

Without wading into the constitutional waters of legalities, drones are among one of the growing tech options in criminal justice. Drones become invaluable when searching for missing persons or when needing aerial views of natural disaster damage.

As the technology continues to develop they could soon appear in an enclosed setting, providing additional security for courthouses, jails and correctional facilities. Drones will supplement fixed cameras and correctional officer checks in the future, making for a safer correctional environment.

Body Sensors:
If you are a fan of major league football you may have observed the new technology the NFL is getting through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips.  RFID sensors provided by Zebra Technologies have changed the way the game is viewed.  Combined with video playback, the analyst can show spacing, speed and distance between opposing players. The information provides a better understanding of why a play succeeded or failed.

The standards of a criminal justice professional require that they stay current in law, tactics and technology.

The MAG group, a division of Zebra Technologies, has been using RFID technology within the military and is now moving into applications for criminal justice. The sensors can show location and provide physiological data to track respiration and heart rate of correction or law enforcement officers, should they be involved in a high-stress situation.

RFID technology can also be used to track detainees in a corrections setting. Currently the technology is available for fixed locations; a mobile system will be available for off-site operations. This mobile system will be able to incorporate RFID technology along with drone applications.  Several uses that come to mind are SWAT application, drastic hostage situations or large event security.  In corrections, the RFID technology will be able to provide mobile security for off-site prison operations.

GPS Darts:
Similar to the RFID chip, the GPS dart shoots a GPS-enabled sensor at a vehicle that is being pursued. Once the device is attached, it allows law enforcement to track the vehicle’s location from a distance. From a risk management point of view this technology reduces the danger of high-speed pursuits."

As technology develops, there is a large gap between development and implementation and it continues to grow.  Education will lead the criminal justice field into the unknown of the future. Obtaining and completing your degree online in the criminal justice field will create new opportunities as the profession expands.
Sgt. Thomas Dworak served the Wilmette, Il. Police Department for 31 years in a wide variety of assignments. Now retired, Sgt. Dworak is a consultant for The Virtus Group ( providing adaptive leadership training to law enforcement and corrections officers through the Growing Courage leadership program.