Law Enforcement Technology

Criminal Justice Priority Technology Needs Initiative

Enabling Innovation in the Criminal Justice Community

On behalf of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Criminal Justice Priority Technology Needs Initiative is carrying out a research effort to assess and prioritize technology needs across the criminal justice community. The fundamental goal is to enable innovation in the U.S. criminal justice community — from incremental changes in the way agencies do daily tasks, increasing their efficiencies and solving their current problems to transformational changes that make it possible for them to do entirely new things or accomplish objectives in new ways.

The Initiative includes five major efforts:

  • Assessing community and institutional corrections needs. As part of this effort, the Initiative held a Corrections Advisory Panel in the Washington, D.C., area on May 19-22, 2014, to identify and prioritize needs across the corrections sector. Participants included corrections professionals from more than 20 agencies from across the country. This panel resulted in the publication of a 2015 report, Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector.
  • Examining future technology needs in law enforcement. A Law Enforcement Futuring Workshop took place in the Washington, D.C., area on June 22-25, 2014, to explore how key trends in society and technology could challenge law enforcement agencies. Participants crafted possible future scenarios and explored technology requirements under different future conditions. This workshop resulted in the publication of a 2015 report, Visions of Law Enforcement Technology in the Period 2024-2034: Report of the Law Enforcement Futuring Workshop. A second technology workshop in September 2015 discussed how law enforcement can best leverage future communications capabilities anticipated to be fielded over the next 10 to 15 years, while mitigating potential risks. A report will be released in summer 2016.
  • Identifying criminal justice needs regarding digital evidence. The Initiative held a technology workshop in the Washington, D.C., area on June 28-29, 2014, that focused on issues around the collection, analysis, search and use of digital evidence. Participants identified and prioritized technology needs focused on increasing effectiveness of criminal justice agencies with respect to digital evidence and its use in court proceedings. A report from this meeting can be found at
  • Assessing the implications of Web 3.0+ technologies for criminal justice. A planned technology workshop will focus on the potential implications of Web 3.0 and future information technologies for criminal justice practice. Participants will look forward approximately five years to discuss what Web and Internet-related technologies are likely to be available (either freely or commercially) to the public, law enforcement and criminals, and to assess the potential impact of those technologies. A report from this meeting can be found at
  • Examining technology issues in the court system. Initiative staff continue to carry out foundational research and outreach related to identifying technology issues related to court operations and functioning. A Court Advisory Panel meeting took place in May 2015, and a report is expected to be released in mid-May 2016. This research is intended to support a future Courts Advisory Panel to broadly identify and prioritize court technology needs.
  • Improving school safety. A school safety technology workplace took place in the Washington, D.C., area in April 2015. The Role of Technology in Improving K-1 School Safety, a report from this meeting, will be released in March 2016.

In addition to the two reports mentioned previously, the Initiative produced a third report in 2015, High-Priority Information Technology Needs for Law Enforcement. More details on those three reports follow.

Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for the U.S. Corrections Sector (PDF)

U.S. corrections agencies manage offenders confined in prisons and jails and those who have been released into the community on probation and parole. Corrections agencies face major challenges from declining budgets, increasing populations under supervision, problems of equity and fairness in administrating justice, and other concerns. This report draws on published literature and new structured deliberations from a practitioner Corrections Advisory Panel to frame an innovation agenda. It identifies and prioritizes potential improvements in technology, policy and practice in both community and institutional corrections.

Key Findings

Corrections technology and practice can be represented as five main categories:

  • Facility operations and population services.
  • Person-worn equipment and weapons/force.
  • Information and communications.
  • Vehicles.
  • Doctrine, tactics, management and behavioral knowledge development and training.

The Corrections Advisory Panel identified 19 high-priority needs for community corrections and 29 for institutional corrections. Most of the top-tier needs fell under one of two main categories: (1) information and communications, and (2) doctrine, tactics, management and behavioral knowledge development and training. Examples of high-priority technology needs included deception detection, new illegal drug detection tools, automated translation tools, various scanners and detectors for detecting weapons and other contraband materials, and policies for analyzing offender social media use.

The elements that make up the innovation agenda and the requirements to meet them vary considerably. They include:

  • Develop and improve technology. The corrections enterprise needs new technologies to meet its specialized needs.
  • Adapt technology to the corrections environment. Although some existing technologies can meet corrections needs, tools must address the complexities of community and institutional settings as well as sensitivities and legal concerns.
  • Perform research and analysis. Some needs from both working groups require developing new knowledge to guide practice.
  • Validate tools. There was a clear call for assistance in demonstrating that some existing tools actually do what they say they do.
  • Change organizations’ policies and practices. Policymakers and decisionmakers can build incentives into grant and other mechanisms to shape behavior, but outside forces can only facilitate — not execute — new innovations.


Although institutional and community corrections each have their own particular requirements, innovation in a number of areas could contribute to improving performance across the sector. Examples include improvements in information-sharing, automated translation tools, staff training and social media monitoring.

The advisory panel identified some needs with much broader implications, including questioning how requirements for restitution affect the ability of offenders to successfully reintegrate into society and not return to prison (in the community working group), and the need to develop much broader alternatives to incarceration for categories of offenses or offenders (in the institutional working group). Although some such changes made it into the top-tier needs, others did not, in part because of concerns about the likelihood of making such fundamental changes successfully.

Visions of Law Enforcement Technology in the Period 2024-2034: Report of the Law Enforcement Futuring Workshop

The objective of this workshop was to identify high-priority technology needs for law enforcement based on consideration of current and future trends in society, technology and law enforcement over a 10- to 20-year time period. During the workshop, participants developed sets of future scenarios, constructed pathways from the present to alternative futures and considered how law enforcement use of technology might affect these pathways. They then identified technology needs (including training and changes in policies or practice) that, if addressed, could enable pathways to desirable futures, or prevent or mitigate the effects of pathways to undesirable futures. The output included 10 future scenarios and 30 technology needs. The technology needs fell into three general categories — technology-related knowledge and practice, information sharing and use, and technological research and development — and were placed into three priority tiers.

Key Findings

Scenarios generated. The most desirable futures envisioned by workshop participants included ones in which society comes to terms with large amounts of formerly private data being widely available and ones in which network-centric policing is widely used. Desirable scenarios, but less desirable than the above, included ones in which law enforcement operations are increasingly militarized.

Undesirable scenarios included ones in which police are overwhelmed by duties such as responding to natural disasters. Another set of undesirable scenarios was associated with a "do nothing" approach, in which law enforcement fails to keep up with the rapid pace of technology and becomes less effective as a result.

Technology needs identified. Workshop participants identified 30 technology needs with general themes focusing on improving the sharing and use of information, improving law enforcement's knowledge of technology and how to use it, and development and fielding of various affordable new technologies.

Workshop conclusions. Positive steps to address identified needs in technology, policy and practice must be taken to avoid paths to futures that workshop participants identified as undesirable. The literal "do nothing" path was seen as leading to highly undesirable futures, and even the "do just enough to stay afloat path" was seen as leading to poor outcomes.

Because technology and society will continue to evolve, moving to and staying on paths to futures that the participants identified as desirable will require continuing action to establish and retain public support, and law enforcement practitioners to effectively meet technology-based challenges.

High-Priority Information Technology Needs for Law Enforcement (PDF)

This study reports on strategic planning activities supporting NIJ in the area of information technology, collecting and analyzing data on law enforcement needs and offering potential solutions through technology assessment studies, extensive outreach and liaison activities, and subject-matter expert panels. By looking across the top-ranking needs, the authors identified 11 cross-cutting themes in total. These themes are further grouped into three overarching keynotes — a broad need to improve the law enforcement community's knowledge of technology and practices, a broad need to improve the sharing and use of law enforcement-relevant information and a broad need to conduct research, development, testing and evaluation on a range of topics. The latter category includes research on both the "nonmateriel" side of technology, including policy and practices, and more traditional technical development.

Key Findings

  • Law enforcement's knowledge of IT and its dissemination can be improved. A wide range of efforts have been undertaken to disseminate technology information to law enforcement practitioners. A strong desire for help in technology use and management remains, implying needs for improvement in technology dissemination and education.
  • Sharing, displaying and using information effectively is a major challenge. Enabling the sharing of information across law enforcement systems is a difficult problem — technically, organizationally and commercially. Information-sharing efforts to date have had limited coverage and can be inconsistent with each other. Further, it is difficult for new developers and users to learn about all of the available information-sharing tools and technologies. Tools that display situational awareness information to law enforcement users at all levels are lacking. In addition, there is a need to improve mechanisms for communicating with the public.
  • Additional areas need research and development. There is a need to improve the following:
    • Systems for monitoring and protecting the health of officers, including both their physical and their mental health.
    • Security, privacy and civil rights policies for using IT.
    • The affordability of law enforcement IT systems across their entire life cycle.
    • Identification of promising practices that can leverage IT effectively to reduce crime.
    • IT (along with supporting training and policies) to help law enforcement respond to major incidents.
    • The use of a range of deployable sensors. These include body-worn cameras, field biometrics, electronic evidence collection systems and video surveillance systems.


  • A federal coordinator for technology-related outreach should be designated. This coordinator would work with various offices to develop and monitor a dissemination strategy capturing who will do what, for whom and when. This coordinator should maintain and monitor a master list of outstanding needs and development tasks to address them, and should also capture which information-sharing projects are addressing the required tasks and disseminate all gathered information in a strategic plan.
  • Work on providing common operational picture/dashboard displays to law enforcement officers should be undertaken.
  • Communications between the public and law enforcement should be improved.
  • The emotional state and physical health of officers should be monitored.
  • Federal efforts to provide tracking systems for responders during major events should be undertaken.

For more on the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative go to: