Approximately one-third of all homicides in the United States are not cleared within the first year of being committed. These cases are dubbed cold cases after active investigation has been terminated for any of several reasons. If investigators lose the trail or cannot come up with enough evidence, witnesses, or a suspect the case may be closed. More important or high publicity cases may become a priority and with lack of a trail a case is closed. These cases can be placed on a back burner until time and manning is available to conduct a more thorough investigation and continue where previous investigation left off.
The low clearance rate has also been attributed to the number of experienced detectives, changes in resources, deterioration of quality of investigation, and escalation of other related crimes. The means of conducting a cold case investigation vary greatly from that of an ongoing investigation and may even be conducted by people not employed by the original agency handling the case. Resurrecting a Cold Case Investigation After a case has been dubbed a cold case, it may take several months to even years before it is re-opened for investigation.
Some times the original investigator may feel a desire to re-open the case or new evidence or witnesses may come to light offering up a direction for investigators to follow. Other times it requires others not involved in the initial investigation to take initiative to gather closure for victims or other reasons. If the primary investigator in the initial case is not involved in the cold case investigation, the current investigators need to be brought up to speed on the background and prior evidence or facts of the case.
Investigators may then contact any prior witnesses and re-entertain questions previously asked or expand on the subject. Some witnesses may provide further information. If there were no witnesses or suspects, current technology that was not available during the initial investigation could provide evidence not previously available such as DNA. Personnel previously interviewed may also be feeling guilt by the time a cold case is re-opened and need an opportunity to vent or even confess their guilt.
If little or no further information is found for investigators to go off of the case may become frustrating and be given up on again. Re-opening a cold case also creates some turmoil such as opening old wounds with the victims of these crimes due to the suspect not being caught initially, and because the victims are forced to relive the past. Cold Case Investigation Units Cold case investigation investigations units have been formed to combat the growing trend of unsolved cases. They usually consist of one or more dedicated homicide investigators with the sole purpose of solving the cases.
The structure and management of these units are not clearly defined at this time and there is little evidence to prove that they are effective at reducing the numbers of unsolved cases. Cold case units have gained popular appeal in the last couple of years through various television shows related to that of solving cold cases. There are two perspectives as to why certain cases remain unsolved. The first is based on conflict theory and behavior of law theory. This theory shows that the police’s discretion leads to differences in investigative effort and shows bias.
The biggest thing to note on this theory is that a case will have more time and effort put into it if the victim is from a more favorable social position. The second theory is the opposite. It states that everyone receives maximum effort regardless of victim characteristics and cases remain unsolved due to a lack of situational characteristics such as evidence, witnesses, and use of a weapon that can be found and fingerprinted. (Napolean, 2009, pg n/a) The cold case unit concept was created by the Miami police department in the 80’s to handle approximately 1,400 unsolved cases.
This unit had much success and cold case investigation units became popular nationwide. To date there are still some concerns on how a cold case unit should operate, but prioritizing cases is the biggest concern. As a standard the highest priority cases are those, which the victim or a second victim has been identified, the death was ruled a homicide, suspects were previously named by forensic means, an arrest warrant was previously issued, significant physical evidence can be further processed, or new leads have arisen where critical witnesses are willing to cooperate.
Cold cases are generally broken into three categories, high, moderate or low. By any means, a staffed and supported cold case investigation unit is more advantageous than a temporary unit. Volunteers are Essential Cold case investigation is an extremely labor intensive process. There has been a growing desire for cold cases to be solved due to its pop culture appeal. Many police departments are feeling the pressure to get their unsolved case numbers down, but due to the economy and budgets on a downward trend staffing and resources are at a premium.
Agencies are now turning to a more non-traditional alternative to fill staff voids left by budget cuts. Volunteers can play an essential role in the assistance to detectives who solve cold cases. Retired detectives provide an allure to some agencies. These retirees do not require additional training because they were previously employed in the same line of business. They are also most likely to enjoy doing the work because they retired doing it. A great attractor for retirees is that they benefit from getting a chance to do what they love without being forced into the long hours that comes along with it.
Other volunteers can come from just about anywhere as long as they have a willingness and drive to solve the cases. Ex-law enforcement and civilians are vital. Having a mixed background of volunteers provides a variety of experience to draw from and a fresh set of eyes on the cases. Investigators that previously worked on the cases may feel refreshed having another opinion on the work they did and find something that was previously missed. Often times investigators are drawn into the way they were instructed to solve a case and miss alternative approaches to problem solving.
Volunteers can provide this alternate because they may not have any training in solving cases. Even if volunteers do not work specifically on solving the case, there are other just as important opportunities. Law enforcement comes with a lot of paperwork and filing. Volunteers are perfect for this because by them doing the paperwork aspect of the investigation it frees up the time of the actual detectives to do the foot pounding. References Leonard, G. J. , Gerard, F. D. , & Camille, D. B. (2005) Resurrecting cold case serial homicide investigations.
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 74(8), 1-7. Retrieved from https://search. proquest. com/docview/204129494? accountid=8289 Napolean, C. R. (2009) Cold case investigation units. TELEMASP Bulletin, 16(1), 1-10. Retrieved from http://search. proquest. com/docview/198013843? accountid=8289 Regensburger, D. (2011). Law enforcement volunteers: An essential tool in the investigation of cold case homicides. Sheriff, 63(3), 22-24. Retrieved from http://search. proquest. com/docview/869520529? accountid=8289