Police Technology and Forensic Science

History of Forensic Science

Forensic Science
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Forensic science is a scientific method of gathering and examining evidence. Crimes are solved with the use of pathological examinations that gather fingerprints, palm prints, footprints, tooth bite prints, blood, hair and fiber samples. Handwriting and typewriting samples are studied, including all ink, paper, and typography. Ballistics techniques are used to identify weapons as well as voice identification techniques are used to identify criminals.

History of Forensic Science

The first recorded application of medical knowledge to the solution of crime was in the 1248 Chinese book Hsi DuanYu or the Washing Away of Wrongs, and it described ways to distinguish between death by drowning or death by strangulation.

Italian doctor, Fortunatus Fidelis is recognized as being the first person to practice modern forensic medicine, beginning in 1598. Forensic medicine is the "application of medical knowledge to legal questions." It became a recognized branch of medicine in the early 19th century.

TheĀ Lie Detector

An earlier and less successful lie detector or polygraph machine was invented by James Mackenzie in 1902. However, the modern polygraph machine was invented by John Larson in 1921.

John Larson, a University of California medical student, invented the modern lie detector (polygraph) in 1921. Used in police interrogation and investigation since 1924, the lie detector is still controversial among psychologists, and is not always judicially acceptable.

The name polygraph comes from the fact that the machine records several different body responses simultaneously as the individual is questioned.

The theory is that when a person lies, the lying causes a certain amount of stress that produces changes in several involuntary physiological reactions. A series of different sensors are attached to the body, and as the polygraph measures changes in breathing, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration, pens record the data on graph paper. During a lie detector test, the operator asks a series of control questions that set the pattern of how an individual responds when giving true and false answers. Then the actual questions are asked, mixed in with filler questions. The examination lasts about 2 hours, after which the expert interprets the data.


In the 19th century it was observed that contact between someone's hands and a surface left barely visible and marks called fingerprints. Fine powder (dusting) was used to make the marks more visible.

Modern fingerprint identification dates from 1880, when the British scientific journal Nature published letters by the Englishmen Henry Faulds and William James Herschel describing the uniqueness and permanence of fingerprints.

Their observations were verified by the English scientist Sir Francis Galton, who designed the first elementary system for classifying fingerprints based on grouping the patterns into arches, loops, and whorls. Galton's system was improved upon by London police commissioner, Sir Edward R. Henry. The Galton-Henry system of fingerprint classification, was published in June 1900, and officially introduced at Scotland Yard in 1901. It is the most widely used method of fingerprinting to date.

Police Cars

In 1899, the first police car was used in Akron, Ohio. Police cars became the basis of police transportation in the 20th century.



The first multi-shot pistol, introduced by Samuel Colt, goes into mass production. The weapon is adopted by the Texas Rangers and, thereafter, by police departments nationwide.


San Francisco is the site of one of the earliest uses of systematic photography for criminal identification.


On June 17, 1862, inventor W. V. Adams patented handcuffs that used adjustable ratchets - the first modern handcuffs.


The use of the telegraph by fire and police departments begins in Albany, New York in 1877.


The telephone comes into use in police precinct houses in Washington, D.C.


Chicago is the first U.S. city to adopt the Bertillon system of identification. Alphonse Bertillon, a French criminologist, applies techniques of human body measurement used in anthropological classification to the identification of criminals. His system remains in vogue in North America and Europe until it is replaced at the turn of the century by the fingerprint method of identification.


Scotland Yard adopts a fingerprint classification system devised by Sir Edward Richard Henry. Subsequent fingerprint classification systems are generally extensions of Henry's system.


Edmund Locard establishes the first police department crime laboratory in Lyon, France.


The Los Angeles Police Department establishes the first police department crime laboratory in the United States.


The use of the teletype is inaugurated by the Pennsylvania State Police.


Detroit police begin using the one-way radio.


Boston Police begin using the two-way radio.


American police begin the widespread use of the automobile.


The prototype of the present-day polygraph is developed for use in police stations.


The FBI inaugurates its crime laboratory which, over the years, comes to be world renowned.


Radar is introduced to traffic law enforcement.


The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) meets for the first time.


The New Orleans Police Department installs an electronic data processing machine, possibly the first department in the country to do so. The machine is not a computer, but a vacuum-tube operated calculator with a punch-card sorter and collator. It summarizes arrests and warrants.


A former marine invents the side-handle baton, a baton with a handle attached at a 90-degree angle near the gripping end. Its versatility and effectiveness eventually make the side-handle baton standard issue in many U.S. police agencies.

  • Introduction: What is Forensic Science & History?
  • Polygraph Machines
  • Other Equipment: Fingerprinting, Police Cars
  • Timeline of Police Technology 1850 - 1960, 1960 - 1996


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


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


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."


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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


The National Academy of Sciences announces that there is no longer any reason to question the reliability of DNA evidence.
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Bellis, Mary. "Police Technology and Forensic Science." ThoughtCo, Sep. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/police-technology-and-forensic-science-1991804. Bellis, Mary. (2017, September 19). Police Technology and Forensic Science. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/police-technology-and-forensic-science-1991804 Bellis, Mary. "Police Technology and Forensic Science." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/police-technology-and-forensic-science-1991804 (accessed May 21, 2018).