Law Enforcement Goes High‐Tech

At the beginning of the 21st century, modern technology is revolutionizing crime‐fighting. Some devices make police officers more productive and improve their safety.

Advanced microphones

The FBI's research lab is producing microminiature electronic surveillance equipment customized for each investigation. The FBI has developed, for example, a solid‐state, briefcase‐size, electronically steerable microphone that can monitor conversations across open areas.

Closed circuit television cameras (CCTC)

The FBI has miniature CCTC units its agents can put in a lamp, clock radio, briefcase, duffel bag, purse, picture frame, coin telephone, book, and other objects and then control remotely to pan, tilt, zoom, and focus.

Forward-looking infrared (FLIR)

Law enforcement agents can point heat detectors at neighborhoods to detect higher temperatures in houses where artificial lights are used to grow marijuana.

Intelligent transportation systems (ITS)

Traffic management technologies, including crash‐avoidance systems, automated toll collection, and satellite‐based position location, can be used to track the movement of all people using private or public transportation and the movement of people using cellular phones. In 1993, fugitive Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was pinpointed through his cellular phone.

Databases

The FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) contains over 24 million records and connects over 500,000 users in 19,000 federal, state, and local agencies. Every year, law enforcement agents access over a million NCIC records for criminal investigations.

DNA typing

DNA typing played a central role in the murder case against former pro football player O. J. Simpson. DNA typing saves police time and money by quickly eliminating large numbers of potential suspects. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is contained in all the body's cells. It carries the genetic codes that are believed to control the body's physical traits, such as race, hair, and eye color. Scientists believe that no two people, other than identical twins, have identical DNA. Sperm and blood cells are particularly rich in DNA, making DNA testing a useful tool in murder and rape cases. Capitalizing on this technological breakthrough in crime‐fighting, the FBI opened a national DNA database in 1998. It consists of 50 databases run by the states but unified by common test procedures and software designed by the FBI. It is now possible to compare a DNA sample from a suspect or crime scene in one state with all others in the system.