6 Groundbreaking Moments in Criminal Justice

Throughout history, the criminal justice system—both domestic and abroad—has been consistently challenged to develop innovations to combat the growing threats that confront society. Here are six historical moments that forever changed how law and order is preserved.


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The First Murder Solved by Utilizing Fingerprints (1892)

The world’s first fingerprint classification system was established by the Central Police Department in La Plata, Argentina. The system was developed, in 1892, by Juan Vucetich, who used data obtained from earlier fingerprint analysis experiments performed by English scientist Sir Francis Galton.

The criminal investigation in which the fingerprint evidence was used involved the gruesome double murder of two children. A bloody fingerprint found at the scene of the crime led to strong evidence against the murderer, who eventually confessed to the crime.

The killer? Shockingly, it was the mother of the young victims.

America’s First State Police Force (1905)

Pennsylvania established the first state policy agency in the United States. The department was formed in 1905 under strong opposition by organized labor, who believed that Pennsylvania would use the agency as a small, private army intent on disbanding strikes, and other labor disputes.

Pennsylvania’s State Police quickly became a model by which other states used to form their own departments. The original force consisted of 228 men, who were responsible for patrolling Pennsylvania’s 45,000 square miles of territory.

America’s First Female Police Officer (1908)

In 1905, Portland, Oregon hosted the Lewis and Clark Exposition, which drew over 1.5 million visitors to the city. In an effort to protect the city’s women from the “inevitable con men, pimps and other criminals,” Lola G. Baldwin was hired to run a traveler’s aid program directed at women.

During the 4-month event, Baldwin was paid $75 a month, and was charged with recruiting other women to help with surveilling the fairgrounds. Most importantly, Baldwin was granted the authority to arrest. Three years later, Baldwin was officially sworn-in as the nation’s first female police officer.


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The Creation of INTERPOL (1923)

Vienna police commissioner, Dr. Johanness Schober, created the International Criminal Police Commission (CPC) in 1923. The CPC was a collaboration between 16 sovereign nations, including countries such as China, Egypt, France and Sweden. In 1946, the organization became known as INTERPOL, which is merely a contraction of the phrase “international police.”

Today, INTERPOL is based in Lyon, France and is comprised of 190 member countries, which cooperate with the unified goal of combatting international criminal activity.

DNA’s Utilization As a Biological Identification Tool (1984)

On what appeared to be a regular day in the lab, British geneticist Dr. Alec Jeffreys encountered a “horrible, smudgy, blurry mess” on a slide containing biological material from his assistant, Jenny Foxon. But after closer examination, the blurry mess turned out to be an encounter of a lifetime. A discovery that dramatically changed the landscape of criminal science.

Upon studying the biological material on this fateful September 1984 day, Dr. Jeffreys came to the realization that he could distinguish all three members of Foxon’s family by a deciphering a pattern of inheritance. Over the next two years, Dr. Jeffreys used his newfound knowledge to solve a complex immigration issue, which led to the reuniting of a young African boy with his family in England, and to the conviction of a perpetrator who raped and murdered two young girls.

Today, the National DNA Index contains more than 10 million offender profiles, and DNA analysis has helped with innumerable investigations and led to countless convictions. All thanks to the smudge left behind by Jenny Foxon on a microscope slide.

Government Sanctioned Use of Sustained Cyber-Warfare (2010)

In June 2010, Iran discovered that a highly sophisticated virus had infiltrated the computer network that controlled five of its nuclear facilities. The virus – Stuxnet – was designed by the United States to contaminate and destroy the uranium enriching centrifuges used at Iran’s facilities.

The cyber-attack was ordered by President Obama, and it was a continuation of President George W. Bush’s strategy  of destabilizing and eliminating Iran’s unsanctioned nuclear program. Apparently, the virus’ code most likely took a whopping ten years to write due to the code’s complexity. Many people believe that the Stuxnet was the first government sanctioned, and sustained, cyber-attack on an adversary’s infrastructure.

Are there any seminal moments in the history of criminal justice that particularly stand out for you?


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The Age of Technology and the Impact on Law Enforcement


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Law enforcement’s utilization of contemporary hi-tech tools in preventing and combating crime is certainly not a new concept. But, what separates modern technology trends from those of yesteryear is the exceptional rapid pace in which technology is progressing.

As a result of this ever-changing tech landscape, police departments (and other agencies) are constantly forced to familiarize themselves with new hi-tech trends and gadgets. So, not only are police officers trained to defend against, and disarm perpetrators, they are also becoming increasingly skilled in effectively using technology to their advantage.

Not too long ago, the only technology an officer had was a police radio, and the knowledge of where the nearest payphone was located. Nowadays, police officers are armed with body cameras, cell phones and radios that scan over 30 channels. Additionally, police cruisers are equipped with radar units, hi-tech engines, surveillance cameras, computer data terminals with internet access, and point of view (POV) cameras.

3D Crime Scene Imaging

Crime scene analytics have fascinated the general public for generations. That’s an obvious fact when you consider the amount of television shows centered around forensic science. A relatively new tool being used in this regard is known as 3D crime scene imaging.

The 3D device essentially conducts a complete scan of a crime scene, and recreates a three-dimensional model of the area.  Sketches and photographs are still being used, but many believe that the 3D model will become the primary method of recreating and analyzing a crime scene.

Through the Wall Radar

This technology utilizes radio waves to detect action on the other side of a given wall. It is an amazing method of limiting the potential harm that may fall upon officers, who would otherwise walk into a potentially volatile, unknown situation.

The radar can alert officers to the slightest movement, which can lead to understanding the full scenario of what lurks on the other side of the wall.  A potential roadblock to this tech is the Fourth Amendment right we all have to not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, which generally begins with an “expectation of privacy” argument.

As with any emerging technology, the courts must balance the rights of an individual with public safety concerns.


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Social Media

When you think of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, your mind does not generally think of the ramifications on law enforcement. But, with the advent of the social media age came the ability for criminal enterprises to coordinate in a new fashion; social media enables people to organize in a virtual world with little-to-no societal or geographical boundaries.

Nevertheless, for every single nefarious social media purpose, there are hundreds of innocent, good-hearted outcomes. Once such example is the social media mobile app known as “Waze.” This app is a commuter-centric program that allows users to communicate with one another and navigate through traffic with real-time, user-based updates. So, for the most part, it’s a positive app that helps people “beat” traffic.

However, one of the features on the app allows users to identify the locations of police officers. This is generally used as a warning to “slow down” but, for those with malice in their heart, it could be used as a way to find and hunt down officers.

Although social media lends itself to criminal abuse, it also bestows countless tools for law enforcement to track down perps. Privacy issues versus public safety are always at the forefront of evidence gathering through social media. And the law revolving around, and concerning, these issues continues to evolve.

It is widely known that criminals leave behind valuable personal information when they engage these sites. Using the proper analytical tools, police can piece together quite a story about criminals, ranging from behavioral patterns and habits through actual confessions.

As social media continues to impact society, so will its influence be felt in law enforcement.

Predictive Analytics

The internet (in general) has given those with criminal propensities many avenues to further pursue their malicious goals. Law enforcement analysts are now able to sift through the plethora of data left behind by these criminals. Drawing on data from cell phone companies, financial institutions, and other publicly accessed forums, analysts are able to determine connections between cases and activities, and oftentimes, they can predict a future threat.

Predictive analytics is a highly complex science, which uses statistical data and algorithms to make predications concerning a myriad of behavioral issues. And through the utilization of cutting edge software coupled with the services of highly trained analysts, the often insurmountable amount of internet data can be tamed, and the outcome can yield positive results in the fight against crime.

In your opinion, what emerging technology will most impact law enforcement in the near future?


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I Have Been Given a Lie Detector Test: Could You Pass?


Years ago, I had an interview with a police department for a forensic position. I had already been fingerprinted, interviewed by the supervisor, had an in-depth background meeting with the background investigators trying to catch me in a lie from my thirty plus page application of my background. The investigator even visited my home. I still wasn’t done with the interview process yet!  The final phase of the interview was the lie detector test.

I’m a fairly easy-going, straight to the point kind of person with nothing to hide, but I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the thought that my stress might make the lie detector test blip a bit. Maybe it would make me look guilty for something I did or didn’t do.

Was that possible?

I met with a patrol sergeant who was certified in administering the lie detector test to police department applicants. I was escorted into a small interrogation room. We are talking no thrills, small metal table, two uncomfortable chairs, and a rudimentary sign on the wall that read: check your firearm before entering.  Yeah, it was one of those rooms where the cops questioned suspects with hardcore investigative techniques.


My writer’s brain went through all types of wild scenarios, and I wondered if they had questioned a murder suspect in the very chair I was seated. Now I was sweating and fidgeting in my chair. I expected to be wired up with numerous plastic suction cups with a strap across my chest as shown on television; but instead, my lie detector test was one tiny clip with a microphone affixed to my shirt. The one cord was linked via USB connection to a laptop computer as the sergeant watched the modest size screen. It was a voice stress analyzer that would detect any inconsistencies (or stress) from my voice.

And so it began… I kept thinking that my voice sounded funny, almost hollow, as I answered the routine questions. It was like someone else was talking, but it was most likely my perception inside my head along with my rattling nerves.

Once the interview was over, I asked half-jokingly, “So did I pass?”

The polite cop answered, “I just have a question that I need verified from someone else.”

I just stared at him. Was he kidding? Was it a part of the test?

To make a long story short, I passed all of the tests and was offered a position and began an internship in the forensic’s division.

So what the heck is the standard lie detector test?

It’s actually called a polygraph, which is administered by a certified polygraph examiner.  A polygraph is basically a combination of medical devices that are used to monitor changes occurring in the body. As a person is questioned about a certain event or incident, the examiner looks to see how the person’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and electro-dermal activity (sweatiness) change in comparison to normal levels. Fluctuations may indicate that person is being deceptive, but exam results are open to interpretation (if the subject is deceptive) by the examiner. ­

This is where the whole polygraph thing gets interesting. The questions, answers, and responses are all subjective to the “interpretation” of the examiner. It leaves room for some seriously grey areas in my opinion.

Can people really beat the polygraph?

According to Russell Tice, the National Security Agency whistleblower who blew the lid open on warrantless wiretapping conducted by the federal government on U.S. citizens post-9/11, says a person can trick the tester on “probable-lie” questions.

These are the basic questions that the examiner gives to the recipient before the process actually begins, like “have you ever stolen money” or “have you ever cheated on a test”, etc.

Tice goes on to explain, “to trick the tester, a person should lie in response to these questions like most other people would, but also bite their tongue hard while doing so, which will set off other physiological reactions in the body. The tester’s “needles will fly everywhere,” says Tice, “and he will think, ‘This guy is a nervous nelly. He has a strong physical reaction when he’s lying.’”

What about psychopaths?

If these types of individuals don’t see anything wrong with lying in the first place and have no bodily changes in the process, then this test would deem inaccurate and at the very least highly incomplete.

How accurate is the lie detector?

Some interesting new research published in May of 2013 from an international team of psychologists has shown that people can actually suppress incriminating memories.  What happens when certain individuals do this is that they avoid detection in the brain activity with guilt detection tests. It sounds simple enough, but it’s based on the logic that criminals have specific memories of their crime stored in their brain. Once the criminal is confronted or reminded of these details, then the brain will automatically recognize these details and the bodily changes occur.

Contrary to this assumption, some individuals can intentionally suppress unwanted memories. It wasn’t clear from the article if psychopathy was studied as well, but I would guess that sociopathic and psychopathic individuals would/could be a part of this memory suppressor group.

Dr. Jon Simons, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge stated, “Our findings would suggest that the use of most brain activity guilt detection tests in legal settings could be of limited value. Of course, there could be situations where it is impossible to beat a memory detection test, and we are not saying that all tests are flawed, just that the tests are not necessarily as good as some people claim. More research is also needed to understand whether the results of this research work in real life crime detection.”

 * * *

Fun Fact:   The polygraph was invented in 1921 by John Augustus Larson, a medical student at the University of California at Berkeley and a police officer of the Berkeley Police Department in Berkeley, California. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the polygraph was on its 2003 list of greatest inventions, described by the company as inventions that “have had profound effects on human life for better or worse.”


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Katherine Ramsland: What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You?

This is a great article from Dr. Katherine Ramsland that previously posted on The Writer’s Forensic Blog (with D.P. Lyle, M.D.) 9/1/2016. I thought it was an interesting post to reblog. You can check it out below.

The Crime Fiction Writer's Forensics Blog

It seems that after many disturbing crimes, the family, friends, or neighbors, in shock at what happened, often say: “But he seemed so nice. So normal. We had no idea.”

Happens all the time.

My friend Katherine Ramsland addresses this in an excellent new blog post in Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today site.


What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You? by Dr, Katherine Ramsland

An early Ripper tale depicts the role of denial in reframing the obvious.

I’ve long known about an early fictional story based on the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, but only recently read it. The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes, was published as a short story in January 1911 in McClure’s magazine. Later, she lengthened it into a novella that focused on the female landlady. Alfred Hitchcock changed it somewhat to turn it into a film.

Reportedly, Lowndes was inspired by an…

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Evil Among Us: 5 Traits of Serial Killers


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For a plethora of alarming reasons, serial killers are a rare breed.

In that regard, one of the most horrific facets of these psychopaths is that these monsters not only possess psychotic and sadistic urges. But, they also have the wherewithal and intelligence to successfully act upon these aggressive and disturbing impulses.

Law enforcement and psychologists have studied these individuals, and have determined that the following five traits are found in most known serial killers.

Desire for Power

Most serial killers have an insatiable thirst for power. When they have a victim in their grasp, the feeling of having control over that person, gives the killer a great sense of satisfaction.

Even after the jig is up, and law enforcement has them in their clutches, serial killers still yearn for that power and control. Their need to exert control over others leads them to withhold small bits of information concerning their crimes.

So, despite being under the control of the police, a serial killer still manages to show some power by not allowing law enforcement to fully and efficiently solve the crimes at hand. Of course, that all changes, when and if, the serial killer decides that they want to cooperate – under their terms.

The Great Manipulators

Appearing vulnerable, and wanting to please others is another dominant characteristic of serial killers. This façade of relative humility and weakness is used to lure victims into a false sense of security.

The serial killer will hide their deeply disturbed personality under the false pretense of being a “nice guy.” These killers have an uncanny ability to read people, and manipulate other’s emotions, in order to get their way.

For example, a medical doctor—Harold Shipman—was able to lure people into the belief that he was an altruistic, caring member of society. Ultimately, this led his victims right into his sinister plot to inflict death upon them through so-called “medical treatment.”


Serial killers often have a difficult time keeping their atrocities to themselves. Whether they are bragging to another victim, an accomplice, or to law enforcement, these psychopaths cannot help but gloat about their horrific crimes.

Some killers take their bragging to an extreme by revisiting sites in which they committed their murders. This action will often lead a serial killer to self-incrimination due to the heightened potential of being followed or seen at the site. Such behavior goes against the criminal code of never revisiting the site of your crime. But, their egos get in the way of common sense.

A British serial killer, Trevor Hardy, once bragged to his brother about the fact that he had brutally murdered teenage girls. Hardy’s ego eventually resulted in his incarceration.


Photo courtesy of fbnoodleman.blogspot.com.

Insincere Charm

Serial killers have an excellent grasp on what makes people tick. Essentially, serial killers use their feigned charisma, wit and charm, along with their manipulation skills, in order to determine their victim’s weakness. And then, they exploit that vulnerability and pounce.

These psychopaths have an excellent aptitude at gaining the position of power over someone by using simple common sense with a dose of flattery, and well-received compliments.

The epitome of a superficial charmer is the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer.  Another example is Ted Bundy, who was widely known as being a handsome and charming man. He would often approach his victims by feigning a disability, so that he could gain sympathy and trust from them. Then he would kidnap, rape and murder his female victims. It is believed that Bundy killed 30 people over a four-year span in the 1970s.

Everyday People

One of the most disturbing aspects of serial killers, is that they appear to be your average, everyday law-abiding citizens. They own homes. Have jobs. Pay their bills. But, unbeknownst to their colleagues, acquaintances and neighbors, these cold-blooded killers are harboring deep, sadistic secrets.

Serial killers use their “average Joe” status as a way to fool people into trusting them. They appear to be normal, well-adjusted members of society, but they are the closest thing to real evil that most of us will ever encounter.

Understanding the psychology of these monsters aides law enforcement in investigating and incarcerating those who wish to do us harm. Are there any traits, other than those mentioned above, that you believe serial killers’ possess?


You can watch fictional vigilante detective Emily Stone track down a serial killer:


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Investigating Cold Cases with High-Tech Forensic Methods


There are more than 14,000 murders committed every year across the United States (on average).  That number averages out to about 38 murders every single day.  This number is based on crime statistical data from 2011 by the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. What is also concerning is that violent crime is trending upward across the United States.

The FBI Uniform Crime Reports are the collection of statistics and data from approximately 17,000 law enforcement agencies including city and town police departments, state law enforcement, tribal authorities and college and university police, on the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. It also includes data on the property crimes of larceny, burglary and auto theft.

What is concerning about the number of annual homicides is that there are other violent crimes committed every single day as well, such as forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, which elevates the violent crime daily incidents.  When all of these types of investigations go cold, these cases pile up exponentially.

clearance_rates2011The clearance rate of homicides, on yearly average , is approximately 60%, which includes clearance by arrest and exceptional means.  I take an exception to clearance by “exceptional means”, which means that they have identified the offender and have enough evidence, but either law enforcement cannot find the person or has run into some type of problem.  I don’t like statistics including an offender that has not been arrested for homicide as a cleared homicide case.  In addition, there is room for reporting errors along with distorted or skewed information from law enforcement agencies.

Based upon the above reported crime statistic for homicide, it means that there are more than 5,000 cold cases every year.  There are many reasons a homicide case turns cold, such as lack of physical evidence and inability to identity the victim.  There just isn’t enough cold case units across the United States to address and investigate all of the cold cases waiting for closure.

I found an interesting forensic article published in October 2012 that addressed the scientific need to identity the thousands of John/Jane Doe cold cases by using a multidisciplinary approach to identifying the remains.

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research team has found a scientific approach to identifying the remains of missing persons.  They use a “bomb pulse” radiocarbon analysis combined with anthropological analysis and DNA techniques.  They used their application to identify the remains of a body from 41 years ago.  The radiocarbon analysis of two teeth helped to determine more of a precise birth date of 4 ½ year old child, which had been thought to be a 7-9 year old child.  The DNA analysis determined the child to be male and a mitochondrial profile concluded a match to a living relative.

Every effort and scientific application should be implemented into cold case investigations, not only to bring the perpetrator to justice, but also to give families closure.


More forensic articles to check out:

Forensics and Criminology: How’d They Do That?

Sister’s DNA Solves Missing Persons Case After 37 Years

6 Mistakes to Avoid at a Crime Scene Straight From a Cold Case Detective


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HAPPY NEW YEAR! Ready and Excited to Jump Into 2017


Photo used by permission from Dreamstime

It’s hard to believe that another year has come to an end. As I look back and reflect on everything, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, but there are so many things to be thankful for in 2016. I look forward to the new year. For me, it’s a time to reevaluate goals, stay connected with readers and friends, and move into new challenges. It’s an exciting time!

I want to thank you all for helping me to make BODY OF THE CRIME a success! It would not have been possible without you. I’ve wanted to launch another series with an eccentric forensic guy for a while now, and I’m very humbled that readers and fans have enjoyed it.

2017 will be filled with new books from Emily Stone and Chip Palmer, forensic articles, and, yes, some surprises too!

Wishing you ALL a very HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with prosperity, health, happiness, and love.


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