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Modern Forensic Technology

Three lab techs stand with beakers and computers utilizing forensic technology like Rapid DNA testing.

When it comes to solving crime, modern forensic technology is transforming investigations. Thanks to forensic science technology, cases can be solved faster and with more accuracy than ever before.

According to Jennifer Doleac, founder of the Justice Tech Lab, modern forensic technology can “reduce crime, improve data quality and reduce racial disparities.” That means strides in forensic science can not only help catch criminals but assist in creating a fairer and more efficient criminal justice system.

While crime shows are packed with exciting and sometimes farfetched imagery of how forensic investigations work, most modern forensic technology is an extension of current technology used in our everyday lives or an improvement to existing investigative processes.

Here are just a few of the incredible strides in modern forensic technologies that are changing the way forensic science operates.

Rapid DNA Tests

Rapid DNA testing is an automated process of quickly creating a DNA profile from a cheek swab sample without any human intervention. Whether the DNA belongs to a deceased victim or a suspect, rapid testing moves the process of solving crime along faster than ever before. In fact, according to the International Biometrics and Identity Association (IBIA) DNA profiles can be available in 75 to 90 minutes. This is especially important considering most suspects are only held for as little as two hours.

Rapid DNA testing is proving useful in solving cold cases, as well. The FBI’s Rapid DNA initiative aims search high profile unsolved crimes while a qualifying suspect is processed at a detention center. Pilot testing of this system is set to start in 2019.

It can also help verify kinship. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Additional applications with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are being pursued to counter human trafficking, identify mass casualty victims and to reunite family members.”

Before Rapid DNA, results from labs could take up to eight months to get back and required multiple expensive instruments and trained technicians. Rapid DNA makes this process faster and cheaper. Using only a desktop unit that is easily operated, law enforcement offers can still rely on the results.

Cloud Forensics

Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store and process data. This eliminates the need for a local server on a personal computer. The Cloud has a tremendous impact on criminal investigations.

Instead of physically seizing a computer and conducting a digital forensic search, investigators now must contend with a vast network not owned by one individual. This opens a whole world of opportunities and challenges for investigators. It has even created a new field of forensic technology called cloud forensics.

In cloud forensics, investigators conduct digital forensic investigations into computers to identify and collect the right data to be presented in a case. When a perpetrator is skilled and careful, they may leave no evidence of a crime on their actual computer. Specialists in cloud forensics can often trace information through the Cloud. Data is less likely to be deleted because of the abundance of space to store information.

Because cloud computing uses a network of servers instead of storing all information on one device, cloud forensics is similar to boots-on-the-ground investigating. With a virtual twist, investigators must still follow one piece of evidence to the next. Thus, cloud computing is changing how policework is done while still pulling on the tried and true principles of investigation.

Automated Fingerprint and Facial Identification

The Automated Fingerprint Identification System, also known as AFIS, is not a new concept. The quick and automatic way that it’s used today is, though. Without automated testing, results often vary from one examiner to another.

“We know that when humans analyze a crime scene fingerprint, the process is inherently subjective,” said Elham Tabassi, a computer engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “By reducing the human subjectivity, we can make fingerprint analysis more reliable and more efficient.”

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Machine learning allows for computers to recognize patterns overtime and perform better than human evaluation. The success of automatic fingerprint identification is highly dependent on having a large database of fingerprints, though. It’s also reliant on how clear the recovered fingerprint is.

Machine learning and databases are also helpful when it comes to facial recognition. Cameras are everywhere these days, from personal phones to checkout lines at grocery stores. Thus, there’s no shortage of images to be used in forensic investigating.

According to Forensic Magazine, although facial identification is not as accurate as fingerprint identification, it does have clear advantages:

  • It can identify individuals in situations where fingerprints might not be available.
  • Combining facial recognition with fingerprint identification improves the accuracy of identification.
  • It can be used in the field by police officers to quickly identify individuals already known to law enforcement or with existing warrants.

We are still in the early stages of discovering the full extent of the good that automated fingerprint and facial identification can have on investigations, but technological advancements have made huge strides in recent years.

Vehicle Forensics

If you drive a vehicle that was manufactured in the last decade, chances are it’s packed full of electronic systems that are integrated and store information. Some of that information can play a vital role in solving crimes.

Information technology company, Beyond IT, points out that three specific types of information may be of importance to criminal investigators:

  • Vehicle events: These events can be as simple as gear shifts or speed changes. They’re often logged in the electronic components of the vehicle.
  • Location data: A vehicle’s navigation system may have a log of information, such as saved locations and previous destinations.
  • Connected devices: A vehicle’s electronics may be able to identify devices that were connected to USB ports or Bluetooth.

This information can prove valuable in investigations. While eyewitness testimony played a huge role in placing criminals at scenes in past decades, now vehicle technology can fill that role reliably. Our vehicles now have a treasure trove of information, much like the black box of an airplane.  

Social Media Forensics

For better or worse, social media is intertwined with our lives. That means, it can play an important role in how law enforcement uses social media to fight crime. Many judges gladly allow social media evidence in court. According to an article by Forbes, almost anything you post online becomes part of the public record.

Due to the prevalence of communication on social media, an investigator can become a sort of eye witness. When law enforcement examines social media profiles of victims and suspects, they have a front row seat to interactions the involved parties had or are having and with whom they’re interacting.

Social media can play a significant role in discovering the mindset of victims and criminals, identifying plans a victim might have made and getting a glimpse into the intricacies of events that unfolded. Some relationships and interactions may never have been uncovered without the help of social media.

Forensic Technology and the Future of Law Enforcement

As modern forensic technology continues to change, the field of law enforcement will only become more challenging and interesting. The hope is that, with the help of computers and data, biases and errors will be lessened, and law enforcement officers will get the reliable answers they need more quickly.

Job growth for forensic science technicians is promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for forensic science technicians is expected to grow 17%, which is much faster than average. If you’re interested in earning your criminal justice degree, Campbellsville University Online offers three options, including an online A.S. in Criminal Justice, an online B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration and an online M.S. in Justice Studies. A degree in criminal justice can take you down many paths, including to a career as a forensic science technician or a forensic psychologist. Our fully online justice degrees will provide you with a deep understanding of the legal system and law enforcement. The convenient and flexible online format of our classes allows you to complete your education on your own time with instructors with extensive re-world experience in the field.