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Cold Case Investigations: An Analysis of Current Practices and Factors Associated with Successful Outcomes, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2011
15 pages
This is the executive summary of a study that examined how "cold case" work is organized (re-examination of cases in which initial investigative efforts yielded no arrest) and funded, as well as the factors likely to produce a successful "cold case" investigation.
The study involved a national survey of law enforcement agencies that documented the range of ways that cold case work is conducted and how the various strategies affect cold case clearance rates. This national survey was followed by research in four jurisdictions that conduct large numbers of cold case investigations. At each site, hundreds of case files of solved and unsolved cases assigned to cold case squads were examined in order to identify factors that influenced the outcomes of cold case investigations. The study identified three types of cold case investigations that involved distinctive approaches. The identification of factors related to the success of cold case investigation was impeded by the failure of agencies to keep records on court filings, convictions, sentences, or the time spent on cold case investigations relative to the number of clearances obtained. This failure in recordkeeping is due largely to detectives switching back and forth between active and cold case investigations, such that data on case processing does not distinguish between active and cold case investigations. Two recommendations are offered for future research on cold case investigations. One recommendation is to conduct cost-effectiveness analysis of investigator time spent on cold cases compared to new cases. The second research recommendation is to assess the conviction rate for cold cases and determine whether involvement of prosecutors in investigations leads to a higher rate of convictions. 2 tables and appended table with data abstracted from cold case files

Date Published: October 1, 2011