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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