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Police Technology and Forensic Science

Timeline of Police Technology 1960 - 1996

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1960s

The first computer-assisted dispatching system is installed in the St. Louis police department.

1966

The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a message-switching facility linking all state police computers except Hawaii, comes into being.

1967

The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice concludes that the "police, with crime laboratories and radio networks, made early use of technology, but most police departments could have been equipped 30 or 40 years ago as well as they are today."

1967

The FBI inaugurates the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the first national law enforcement computing center. NCIC is a computerized national filing system on wanted persons and stolen vehicles, weapons, and other items of value. One observer notes NCIC was "the first contact most smaller departments had with computers."

1968

AT&T announces it will establish a special number -- 911 -- for emergency calls to the police, fire and other emergency services. Within several years, 911 systems are in widespread use in large urban areas.

1960s

Beginning in the late 1960s, there are many attempts to develop riot control technologies and use-of-force alternatives to the police service revolver and baton. Tried and abandoned or not widely adopted are wooden, rubber and plastic bullets; dart guns adapted from the veterinarian's tranquilizer gun that inject a drug when fired; an electrified water jet; a baton that carries a 6,000-volt shock; chemicals that make streets extremely slippery; strobe lights that cause giddiness, fainting and nausea; and the stun gun that, when pressed to the body, delivers a 50,000-volt shock that disables its victim for several minutes. One of the few technologies to successfully emerge is the TASER which shoots two wire-controlled, tiny darts into its victim or the victim's clothes and delivers a 50,000-volt shock. By 1985, police in every state have used the TASER, but its popularity is restricted owing to its limited range and limitations in affecting the drug- and alcohol-intoxicated. Some agencies adopt bean bag rounds for crowd control purposes.

1970s

The large-scale computerization of U.S. police departments begins. Major computer-based applications in the 1970s include computer-assisted dispatch (CAD), management information systems, centralized call collection using three-digit phone numbers (911), and centralized integrated dispatching of police, fire, and medical services for large metropolitan areas.

1972

The National Institute of Justice initiates a project that leads to the development of lightweight, flexible, and comfortable protective body armor for the police. The body armor is made from Kevlar, a fabric originally developed to replace steel belting for radial tires. The soft body armor introduced by the Institute is credited with saving the lives of more than 2,000 police officers since its inception into the law enforcement community.

Mid-1970s

The National Institute of Justice funds the Newton, Massachusetts, Police Department to assess the suitability of six models of night vision devices for law enforcement use. The study leads to the widespread use of night vision gear by today's police agencies.

1975

Rockwell International installs the first fingerprint reader at the FBI. In 1979, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police implements the first actual automatic fingerprint identification system (AFIS).

1980

Police departments begin implementing "enhanced" 911, which allows dispatchers to see on their computer screens the addresses and telephone numbers from which 911 emergency calls originated.

1982

Pepper spray, widely used by the police as a force alternative, is first developed. Pepper spray is Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), which is synthesized from capsaicin, a colorless, crystalline, bitter compound present in hot peppers.

1993

More than 90 percent of U.S. police departments serving a population of 50,000 or more are using computers. Many are using them for such relatively sophisticated applications as criminal investigations, budgeting, dispatch, and manpower allocation.

1990s

Departments in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere increasingly use sophisticated computer programs to map and analyze crime patterns.

1996

The National Academy of Sciences announces that there is no longer any reason to question the reliability of DNA evidence.

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