Protocol for Cold Case Squads
National Sheriff's Association: Serving Survivors of Homicide Victims During Cold Case Investigations: A Guide for Developing a Law Enforcement Protocol
Advancements in DNA technology and other forensic investigative tools have enabled law enforcement agencies to reopen cases left dormant for years. Although the number of cold cases investigated by agencies on a nationwide basis each year is currently not tracked, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does track the number of offenses cleared. In 2009, 66.6 percent of the 13,242 murder and non-negligent manslaughter crimes in the United States were cleared by arrest or exceptional means. While this is a significant clearance rate, it leaves many homicides unsolved each year.
In response to the advances in forensic technology, many law enforcement agencies have established cold case units with the hope that reexamining evidence will help solve more crimes. As cases are reopened, investigators are contacting survivors of homicide victims. Although survivors may be grateful that their loved one’s murder has renewed attention, the reopening of a case can sometimes have traumatic effects. As discussed in Section 4.1(see link to article below),
“Training for Investigators,” survivors may experience a resurgence of grief upon learning that their loved one’s case has been reactivated. New activity in their case may give survivors hope that it will be solved. However, if this new activity does not move the case forward, then survivors may re-experience the frustration and grief they experienced when the homicide first occurred.
A National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report emphasizes that “re-investigating a case may cause renewed psychological trauma to the victim and victim’s family.” Moreover, “it should not be assumed that victims and witnesses, even if they were eager to pursue the case when it occurred, are still interested in pursuing the case.” Finally, the NIJ report recommends that officers re-investigating a case “enlist the aid of victim service providers.” Working in partnership with victim service providers will help investigators better understand and address the needs of survivors.
In addition to the establishment of cold case units by law enforcement agencies, services for survivors of homicide victims have also been legislated by two states as well as implemented within some federal agencies. In Arizona, “a law enforcement agency that has a cold case shall establish and maintain a cold case register.” In Colorado, there are statutes defining a cold case and creating a cold case homicide team within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
On the federal level, both the Naval Criminal Investigative Service/U.S. Department of the Navy and the FBI have developed protocols to address the needs of survivors in cold case homicides. Click HERE to download this complete report.