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Helping Local Police Departments Solve Cold Cases

NCJ Number
Police Chief Volume: 76 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2009 Pages: 42-43,45,47
Date Published
September 2009
4 pages
After reviewing the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) funding program for the establishment and training of local cold case units, this article outlines some of the lessons learned from the funded programs.
NIJ's program entitled, "Solving Cold Cases With DNA" is dedicated to getting DNA science to the field for solving cold cases that have lacked the evidence needed to identify a suspect and/or build a case for prosecution. Since 2005, NIJ has awarded almost $50 million to State and local police agencies for the purposes of identifying and reinvestigating older, unsolved rape and homicide cases that can be solved with modern DNA technology. Many agencies that have sought NIJ funding intend to establish a dedicated unsolved case unit or, in some cases, keep an existing unit operating. In 2007, NIJ funded the RAND Corporation in a project to identify key factors in developing a successful cold case unit. In addition to conducting a national survey of police and sheriffs' departments in determining what policies and procedures are most effective in solving cold cases, RAND is also focusing on four jurisdictions. Study results are expected by the end of 2009. Still, this article offers some advice from law enforcement agencies that have benefited from NIJ's funding of cold case efforts. Advice offered includes assigning detectives full-time to cold case units and developing a checklist for prioritizing which cold cases to pursue. Cases advised to rank high on the solvability scale include those not prosecuted because suspects or witnesses could not be located or were uncooperative in the original investigation; cases that might yield compelling evidence if new DNA techniques were used; and cases with latent fingerprint, ballistic, or DNA evidence that could be submitted to expanded relevant databases. 6 notes

Date Published: September 1, 2009