Computers in Law Enforcement

NCIC The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is a computerized index of criminal justice information that includes criminal records, stolen property lists, and descriptions of missing persons. NCIC information is available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The official NCIC Web site is www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/ncic.htm, where you can also find links to:

  • IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System), a national fingerprint and criminal history system maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  • NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System ), a system that provides background checks on individuals who want to purchase or receive a firearm.

  • UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting Program), a database of crime statistics from 17,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide used for compiling and studying crime trends.

  • LEO, a national interactive computer communications system and information service exclusively for the law enforcement community.

Fingerprints Although you might associate fingerprint identification with Sherlock Holmes, the real story dates back to ancient Babylon and China. You can read a quick sketch of fingerprint history at onin.com/fp/fphistory.html or in the PDF file at www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/ident.pdf. The systematic use of criminal fingerprint identification began in the United States in 1903. In 1924, the FBI became responsible for maintaining a central repository for fingerprint from all over the nation. As of 2005, the repository contained almost 50 million criminal fingerprint records and more than 40 million civil fingerprint records (from government employees). Each day approximately 7, 000 new fingerprint records are added to the database.

Computers in squad cars Computers are becoming standard equipment in many police cars. Companies such as Datalux and Public Safety Technologies supply dashboard-mounted computers. As this technology evolves it is becoming more efficient and safer. Although dashboard-mounted computers can supply a wealth of data, officer safety is endangered if they attempt to use the keyboard when driving. In some cars, the dashboard mount can interfere with airbag deployment during an accident. Voice recognition, trunk-mounted computers, and heads-up displays can help solve these problems. Voice recognition systems, such as Project 54, allow officers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. When officers decide to pull a motorist over for, say, speeding, they have to do many different things, such as to turn on the flashing lights, activate the siren, determine their location, use the radio to report their activity, and turn on the video camera. With a voice activated on-board computer, an office can simply say “pursuit” and everything happens automatically.

Another innovative squad car technology provides officers with a heads-up display on the windshield, so that officers don’t have to take their eyes off the road. Trunk-mounted computers keep equipment out of the air-bag deployment path.

Computer forensics Investigators are increasingly encountering suspects who own computers that might contain evidence of criminal activity. The challenge is to extract incriminating evidence in such as way that it is not destroyed, modified, or tainted. Computer forensics offers a set of procedures that help investigators obtain evidence from computers. Short overviews of computer forensics can be found at www.computerforensics.net and at  TheFreeDictionary.com. Slightly more detailed overviews are located at www.en.wikipedia.org, and www.cybersecurityinstitute.biz. The IACS (International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists) site www.cops.org provides lots of links to information about techniques, training, and ethics.

One of the most important tools of computer forensics is software that allows investigators to clone and image the data on a computer’s hard disk (www.x-ways.net/winhex/forensics.html). Cloning (also referred to as “mirroring” or “physical sector copying”) creates an exact duplicate of a disk to another similar disk. Imaging copies each physical sector from a disk and compresses this image in the form of a file. An image file can be stored on CDs or tape backup media for archiving or later restoration. Investigators work with cloned and imaged data, leaving the original data intact.

Disk cloning is useful for non-forensic purposes, too. You can use disk cloning software to make an exact copy of your current hard disk so that you can easily copy all your data and programs to a new computer. The Beginners Guide Web site www.pcstats.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=418 tells you how, and includes a brief description of consumer-level disk cloning software.