Term Paper: Criminal Justice Computers and Their

Pages: 28 (7588 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] The fingerprint also enabled the police investigator to track down the perpetrator of a crime even in those cases in which there had been no human witness, and in which other evidence was lacking or incomplete. The further influence of science - in particular medical science and pathology - led to ever more sophisticated techniques for investigating crime scenes. Biological and chemical evidence now put the noose around as many criminals' necks as once had eyewitnesses and fingerprints. With increased medical knowledge, a coroner could determine almost the exact time of murder victim's demise, thus helping the investigation. Having a specific window in time to work with, police had a better idea of whom to look for and whom to question. All of these new forms of scientific evidence also meant that police could rule out many that would formerly have been considered suspects, and concentrate on those who were genuinely associated with the case. Spectroscopic analysis, ballistics testing, and even lie-detector machines all had their role to play in making science and technology an every day part of police work. These new inventions also made it much more difficult for the criminal or would-be criminal, as well as much easier for the prosecutors and courts.

However, all of these wonderful technological innovations came with a heavy price, and that price could be measured in the reams of paperwork, the tons and tons of it that filled up station filing cabinets and city halls of records. A police officer or investigator could spend hours, days, or even weeks, poring through dusty files. Doing everything by hand and by eye meant that it could take months to match up the proper photographs or fingerprints, or ballistic reports. And what did you do if you couldn't find the correct information? You knew it was there but it was missing or misfiled or even water-logged or destroyed. An early attempt at solving some of these problems came in the form of the punch cards that were produced by companies such as the International Business Machine Corporation - the modern day IBM. A pattern of holes of punched into a small, paper card constituted a code that corresponded to lines of text. The heaps of criminal records that had been built up over the years could be transferred to these cards. The cards could then be fed into a large machine. Working at a control panel, the machine's operator then punched in the code for which he was looking and the machine did the ret. This kind of mechanical sorting vastly decreased the amount of time given over simply to finding information.

Yet, no matter how advanced, mechanical devices do have their limits. Even the most sophisticated of these machines would seem painfully slow and primitive compared to today's computers. It was the dawning of the electronic age that truly signaled the beginning of a whole new era in police work. At first stored on magnetic tapes, data would eventually be stored on sophisticated hard drives and CD ROM's. High-speed computers could scan through millions of records in only a matter of seconds. And as technology advanced still further, the computer decreased in size and cost. It moved out of the basement rooms of its first ancestors, the chilly cavern that had been required by the behemoth-sized forerunners of today's computers. The computer came to be a feature of every department, and then of every stationhouse, and finally it landed on every desk and in every police car. Armed with both his service revolver and his laptop computer, the policeman now had access not only to a good means of protection, but also to a world full of information. Tasks that once took weeks or months, or that were virtually impossible because of human physical limitations now became ordinary and even expected. Police departments across the country and across the world could at last keep tabs on criminals with a consistency and an accuracy that never before even been imagined. Individual officers and investigators could be freed up to spend their time doing the work they were trained and paid today. Human brains were at long last free to think and meditate on the solutions to the problem of criminal activity, rather than spend all of their time puzzling over confused records, or cramping their hands by completing seemingly endless examples of paperwork.

Nevertheless, the new computers brought with them their own problems. To start with, learning to use a computer correctly necessitated the learning of an entirely new set of skills. To many who were unfamiliar with them, they seemed to have entirely their own language. An entry entered incorrectly, a key pressed in error, could result in the wrong data being retrieved. Keeping a warehouse full of files on a single disk was great, but what happened if the computer went down? What happened if some rookie accidentally erased everything on your hard drive? Computers did not eliminate the problem of human error, and in fact, they could even be said to have exacerbated the problem. Unless you took a blowtorch to the stacks at the hall of records, it wasn't likely that you were going to lose everything you had. A mistake that might be minor on a handwritten or typewritten document could result in that simple mistake being repeated millions of times on a computer. Program the computer improperly and your entire filing system was screwed up. Forget your password or have a power failure and you can't even get into the darned thing. And, as police departments - like so many other contemporary enterprises - at last reached the stage of the paperless office, a new problem loomed on the horizon. This was the problem of almost total human dependence on technology. Once you get to the point where all of your records are stored on disk, and even worse, where everything you once did by hand is now done by machine, you have no other when these wonders of modern technology fail. The young policeman of today who has never conducted an analysis by hand, or who has never had to compare prints or photographs by eye is completely at a loss without all of his gadgets. And of course, we should not forget the loss of the human element in police work. The more and more our computers do for us, and the more we work with them, the less interaction we have with our fellow human beings. Policemen and policewomen, like experts everywhere and in every field, can rely too much on technology. Sometimes only good old-fashioned sweat and hard work are the only ways to solve a problem, and if we become so dependant on our beloved machines that we cannot function without them, then we have a greater problem that we ever had before.

Literature Review wide range of computer technology is now available to the typical police department. As we began our discussion with a look at the problems of communication among police officers and between departments, it might be a good idea, at this point, to take a look at some of the current developments in this area. The Internet now pervades our society. It has many benefits. It brings us closer together, it speeds up the dissemination of information, and it makes it a far simpler task to perform research of all kinds. No doubt, it is an invaluable a tool for the police officer as it is for the businessman, the government official, or the student. Yet, the Internet is also fraught with problems. It is, without doubt, the most anonymous and easily accessible form of communication ever devised. Virtually anyone can post something on a website and have it made instantly available to millions and millions of people around the world. While providing us all with exciting new opportunities for learning and for entertainment, it also functions as a back door for much that is undesirable in our society. Hate groups can plan their activities and spread their propaganda on slickly-packaged websites. Pornographies can push their smut to others of like mind, and even worse, to unsuspecting children. Dangerous or illicit substances can be bought and sold without oversight or regulation. For the policeman, however, there is a particular problem in regard to the Internet, and that is its sheer openness. While all police work is not always best done in secret, much of it does require a certain regard for security. A promising lead can be lost because a news organization picked up on a story. Amateur sleuths and busybodies can nose their way into confidential files. The World Wide Web Consortium has developed and endorsed the latest products for encrypting data that is sent over the Internet. In particular, it uses a protocol called XML. This protocol… [END OF PREVIEW]

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