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The Importance and Impact of Cold Case Units

Tim Keel, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit; Jim Markey, Senior Law Enforcement Specialist, RTI, and retired Sergeant, Phoenix (Az.) Police Department; Ted Hunt, Former Chief Trial Attorney, Jackson County, Mo.; Thomas McAndrew, Lehigh Valley District Attorney's Homicide Task Force; William Doogan, Sergeant, Boston (Ma.) Police Department; Gergory A. Schmunk, Chief Medical Examiner, Des Moines, Iowa; Sally Wolter, Detective Sergeant, Michigan State Police

Practitioners from across the criminal justice system speak to the importance of cold case units and the impact they can have.

Tim Keel: An investigator needs to go look at the files, look at the cases, knock on doors. They need to do things that you know traditional investigators do. As great as forensic evidence is, it still sometimes comes down to the investigator doing investigative work. And it's important for them - bosses, supervisors, chiefs - to understand how important it is to clear a cold case.

[On screen text] NIJ's Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program funded states and local governments to identify, collect, evaluation, and analyze DNA evidence from cold cases and to prioritize violent crime cold cases.

Jim Markey: Back in 2001 almost like a perfect storm. Putting this grant funding that we got from the federal government with, with the technology that our crime lab was now starting to evolve into, and then started looking at cold cases. So we developed - I call it - a cold case sexual assault unit in 2001, where we started identifying cases, pulling evidence, mainly sexual assault kits, and then having them examined for DNA. And so that kind of got our involvement, so we started writing policies and practices, started getting CODIS hits, we started investigating these cases quite regularly over the next several years, and that actually continued over the next 16 years.

Ted Hunt: Well I think it shows that we care and that you're not forgotten. I know I've had victims - family members - in absolute shock after we've come to them 20-30 years later, and say we think we're on to something here. We think we've solved your case. And then they see the amazement when we go all the way through the process to the verdict. When they actually get that verdict - it's unbelievable.

Thomas Mcandrew: You know I have cold cases where the investigators actually closed them out. They felt they had reached that roadblock, and they put in there we will reopen this when there is a day and age and that there's other avenues. Well that day and age is actually right now, because science has led to a lot of these avenues that we can now can pursue that they never even dreamed of years ago.

William Doogan: There's a number of reasons the departments should have cold case units. Well first of all, the one time offender is relatively infrequent. The recidivism rate and the repeat offenders - people don't realize how many are out there. Just in my limited jurisdiction in Boston on the cases that we've worked in the past few years, I've identified multiple instances of, quite frankly, serial killers. These folks that - these suspects, these perpetrators - that have killed, or attempted to kill, more than one victim unrelated to the other victims. The - that in and of itself would be a primary reason to have it.

Jim Markey: And I think the community really has an expectation that we in law enforcement, as the jurisdiction, as an agency, are doing everything we can. That we have resources and access to, to try to solve these cases as well.

Gregory A. Schmunk: There's precious, little, spare time in law enforcement - in any forensic sciences - so having that dedicated unit focuses the resources on those cases.

William Doogan: A lot of jurisdictions cold cases, for some reason, is not a priority for them. If they're the recipient of some of these grants that are going to make it a priority, once they start doing it they'll see. Once they realize the scope and the depth of the issue, it doesn't matter if they got a grant, or you don't have a grant, the grant expires or not, they're not going to ignore it. They can't. You just can't do it.

Thomas Mcandrew: I personally believe that they think that that is being done. I really do. I think people in our society would be surprised to know that a lot of these homicides are sitting without anybody doing anything about them. And I think we really need to bring attention to the magnitude of this.

Sally Wolter: Families have lived with this injustice to their own families for many years. When you bring hope back to them, that tell them that their loved one is not forgotten, people like that. Families like that.

William Doogan: It's our responsibility. It's what we swore to do. It's our job.

Date Created: August 15, 2019