The Dedicated Cold Case Unit


Try as I might, I couldn’t find any information on when the first cold case department was formed in the US. This model of a dedicated unit devoted to handling only cases that are anywhere from a year to many years old is relatively new. 

Criminologists estimate that at least 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s, leaving family and friends to wait and wonder.

The one thing law enforcement can do about these unsolved murders is establish a cold case squad and, if they already have one, fully support them. The clearance rates are never going to change unless police departments start getting serious about the cases that are going cold. And yet, as fewer and fewer murders are solved and the number of cold cases increases, all around the country police departments are allowing their cold case squads to slowly disintegrate. Cold Case Squads are created or disbanded all the time, people transfer or retire. 

Normally, when police departments see an increase in crime they send in the troops. But police departments not only need to send in the troops, they need to send in some of the best troops they have because these cases are, by definition, the hardest cases of all, the ones that no one else could solve.

The Department of Justice gave $14 million in grants to law enforcement agencies this year to conduct DNA analysis in cold cases. It’s a start. While counterterrorism is very important and money and manpower should certainly go there, try telling the families of the 6,000-plus murder cases that will go cold this year and every year that solving their loved one’s murder is not important, too.

To use the FBI’s terminology, the national “clearance rate” for homicide today is 64.1 percent. Fifty years ago, it was more than 90 percent.

And that’s worse than it sounds, because “clearance” doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

Credit where credit’s due. I drew heavily on “Open Cases: Why One-Third Of Murders In America Go Unresolved” by Martin Kaste on the site.

I also used site for information used in this blog.


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