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Cold Case Investigation Units and Advances in Investigative Techniques

Sergeant Jason Moran

Sergeant Jason Moran of the Cook County (IL) Sheriff’s Office discusses the current situation of cold cases in the United States, why it’s important to establish cold case units, how current tools and technology can help solve cold cases, and what National Institute of Justice resources are available to assist in solving cold cases.

Sergeant Moran was a participant on an NIJ Saturday Session panel at IACP 2019.

The current situation with cold cases in the United States is that it's an underserved subfield of investigation.  Unfortunately, there is just not enough resources set aside for cold case investigations.  There's not enough people looking into cold cases.  And it basically means that a lot of the cold cases are sitting on a dark, dusty shelf. 

Cold Case Units are important for police departments to have for several reasons.  One being that a person that is murdered 30 years ago, or a person that goes missing 20 years ago, is no less important than the person that goes missing today, or is murdered today.  The difference is, and for obvious reasons, the person that goes missing today, or was murdered today — there's a lot of resources that go towards that investigation. 

Also, I think we have to look at Cold Case Units as a way to deter crime.  Bad guys who kill need to know that they're going to be pursued until the day they die:  That it's not going to go away in 24 hours, or 48 hours, or 72 hours that the investigation will never end, and they can never rest until they're captured.  So it's important to form a Cold Case Unit.  Not necessarily within an agency if the agency doesn't feel they have enough work, but regionally, county-wide, state-wide, and to have dedicated staff, dedicated personnel. 

One of the main ways cold cases are solved is new forensic technology.  It's about applying new technologies that were not available to our predecessors.  This includes the mainstream forensic sciences, like DNA and fingerprints, but also involves computer science, like databases particularly made for open murders, open missing persons, unidentified deceased.  Other items that solve murders are analysis. The passage of time, utilizing the passage of time to further a case. Sources of information in correctional facilities furthers cold cases. Identifying errors in cases from the past, and trying to reconcile those errors. And then persistence: sticking with the case. 

NIJ's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, otherwise known as NamUs, is a very important tool in resolving cold cases.  Myself, many other agencies have utilized NamUs to resolve long-term missing persons, unidentified deceased, and some open murders.  Part of modern forensic technology is the use of computer technology.  And NamUs harnesses that computer technology.  It's very simple to use, and the analytical work that it provides is really something special, something very important to cold cases.

Date Created: March 25, 2020