Like nearly every other industry, the criminal justice field is changing rapidly due to the lightning-fast evolution of technology.

And not just “hard” technology, such as guns and other types of weapons. The use of “soft” technology, such as computers and tracking systems, is becoming just as important to the field.

According to Steven Brancazio, associate faculty chair for Capella University’s School of Public Service Leadership, “the main thing is to keep constitutional rights at the forefront. But there is a lot of technology that does that, and it keeps both sides safe.” Brancazio spent 20 years in law enforcement, including working as a police officer, street crime investigator, squad supervisor, internal affairs investigator, district commander, and captain before making his way to Capella.

Here, he talks in-depth about what technology is doing for criminal justice.


Data Mining

“Data mining is big,” says Brancazio. “It helps us do a predictive type of policing. We can map crimes, then predict where more crime might occur, based on patterns.”

He notes that an area of future growth is data-sharing across police departments. “Criminal justice can be a turf-oriented industry,” he says. “We have to get past that. Whatever we can share, we have to share. When we can avoid communications breakdowns by sharing information quickly during any conflict, we can move more proactively and prevent things from going wrong.”

That’s a tough goal at present. Brancazio points out that there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. alone. “There’s no national police department. It makes sense that you do a different type of policing in New York City than you do in Wyoming. But crime, especially terrorism, has no borders. We need to get a lot more communication going among our different agencies.”

A current approach is the use of global information systems (GIS). Global information systems map, organize, share, and display geographic information in a manner that can be utilized to help predict crime, increase safety, as well as increase the efficiency and effectiveness of available resources.


Safety on the Street

The equipment police officers carry is significantly different today than just a generation or so ago, and much of the change is focused on safety.

Brancazio points to the use of cameras, specifically dashboard and body cams, as an example. “When people [on both sides] know cameras are in use, they’re going to think harder about their behavior. Both sides benefit. The cameras save lives, reduce complaints, and help careers.”

Cameras are helpful, but other technology has been developed that’s even more sophisticated and focused on safety. There are Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Heads-up Display (HUD), and a new “smart belt” that monitors officer’s actions and relays them, when needed, to other officers or dispatch.

Brancazio sees great potential in the smart belt for situations where timing is critical. “It’s almost like flying an F-14,” he says. “It can do so much without anyone having to lift a finger.”

Patrol vehicle computer systems have come a long way.  Along with computer-aided dispatching, an officer can instantaneously access information collected from various information gathering systems in real time to help in developing safer responses to incidents.


Drones in the Future

There’s controversy over the potential use of drones by anyone, whether private citizen or police officer. But Brancazio sees the increase in the use of drones as something likely to occur, as long as their use conforms to Constitutional rights. “Will there be drones? They are already here in various capacities,” he says.

Drones have the ability to get more quickly into tight spaces than a police officer or squad car can, and are being used to record illegal activity, aid in rescues, document crime scenes, help find missing persons, as well as many other applications.


Continuing to Evolve

Technology developments are driving change in law enforcement and criminal justice methods, and yet, as Brancazio notes, “We’re always one step behind criminals, especially terrorists.”

That’s why learning about new technology and understanding its advantages and pitfalls are key factors in Capella’s criminal justice degree programs. “I see a bright future and wealth of career opportunities for people with expertise in criminal justice technology.”


Learn more about Capella’s online criminal justice programs.