Law enforcement and academics working together on cold case investigations: lessons learned and paths forward

Pages93-111
Publication Date01 May 2020
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JCP-09-2019-0040
AuthorBryanna Fox,Lauren N. Miley,Scott Allen,Jordan Boness,Cassandra Dodge,Norair Khachatryan,MacKenzie Lyle,Sean McKinley,Jeff Peake,Maria Rozo
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
Law enforcement and academics working
together on cold case investigations:
lessons learned and paths forward
Bryanna Fox, Lauren N. Miley, Scott Allen, Jordan Boness, Cassandra Dodge,
Norair Khachatryan, MacKenzie Lyle, Sean McKinley, Jeff Peake and Maria Rozo
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this study is to outlinethe specific details and lessons learned during a cold
case collaborative effort,which granted graduate students and a professorfrom the University of South
Floridathe opportunity to assist Pasco Sheriff’sOffice in the investigation of a coldcase homicide.
Methodology The collaboration between law enforcement and academics is a new and emerging
strategy to investigate coldcases and identify the elusive offenders who committed these crimes.Such
collaboration aidslaw enforcement by obtaining a force multiplier for investigativeresources, accessing
cutting-edge evidence-based research and cultivating innovative approaches to their work. For
academics, such collaboration allows the unique opportunity to engage in translational criminology,
which is an importantand increasingly encouragedaspect of the field.
Findings In this paper, the authorsprovide an overview of the process used to studythis cold case as
part of an experientialacademic course, provide evidence-basedresearch findings relevantto cold case
investigationsand outline the steps for others to replicatethe efforts.
Originality/value The authors describein detail the process used to ‘‘work’’ the cold case, academic
research that the authorsfound useful in understanding and investigating cold cases,important lessons
learned and advice for future academics and practitioners who undertake an incredible collaborative
effort suchas this.
Keywords Cold case, Criminal investigations, Experiential learning, Service learning,
Forensic psychology, Translational criminology
Paper type Case study
Cold cases in America: a growing concern and innovative response
Since the 1960s, over 200,000 homicides have gone unsolved in the USA. Despite
major improvements in forensic science and criminal investigations, the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI)’s uniform crime reporting data indicate that the homicide
clearance rate has actually decreased by more than 30 per cent over the past few
decades. In the 1960s, about 90 per cent of reported homicides were solved
(Richardson and Kosa, 2001). This rate dropped substantially in the 1970s and 1980s,
largely because of the massive increase in gun violence accompanying the influx of
cocaine and organized crime in that time period (Gilbert, 1983), and continued to drop
to the low 70 per cent in the 1990s. Stunningly, the national homicide clearance rate
dropped to just 59 per cent in 2016 (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 2016). In
other words, almost half of all murders in the US today are not initially solved, and the
cases often go cold. Consequently, finding innovative and effective strategies to solve
these cases has been a growing priority for law enforcement agencies across the
nation (Jensen and Nickels, 2011).
(Informationabout the
authorscan be found at the
end of this article.)
Received 17 September 2019
Revised 14 February 2020
Accepted 4 March 2020
The authors would like to give
our sincerest thanks to
Detective Todd Koenig,
Captain Chris Beaman, Major
Jeff Peake, and Sheriff Chris
Nocco for collaborating on this
fantastic experience, and
llowing us to share all that we
have learned along the way.
The authors would also like to
thank Josh Sims and Maria
Trogolo for their support and
assistance in the development
of this service learning project.
DOI 10.1108/JCP-09-2019-0040 VOL. 10 NO. 2 2020, pp. 93-111, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jPAGE 93
One strategy that has been recently, but rarely, used is the collaboration between law
enforcement and academics to work coldcases together (Jensen and Nickels, 2011). Such
a collaboration aids law enforcement by obtaining a force multiplier for investigative
resources, accessing cutting-edge evidence-based research and cultivating innovative
approaches to their work. For academics, such collaboration allows the unique opportunity
to engage in translational criminology, which is the dissemination and application of
scientific research to policy and practice (National Institute of Justice [NIJ], 2011). While
translational criminology is increasingly encouraged in the field of criminology, it is rare for
students (and many academics) to be able to apply research and academic knowledge to
practice in such an immediate and impactfulway (National Institute of Justice [NIJ], 2011).
Given the successes but relative rarity of academic/law enforcement collaborations on cold
cases, this article outlines the specific details and lessons learned during one such
collaborative effort, which took place between the Pasco Sheriff’s Office (PSO) and
University of South Florida (USF) in the spring of 2018. Specifically, this collaboration was
unique as it was part of a graduate course on forensic psychology at USF, allowing masters
and doctoral students the opportunity to assist PSO in the investigation of a cold case
homicide. Similarly, it also provided resources and an advanced knowledge base on the
cold case from well-trained graduatestudents.
As the cold case is still open, specific facts of the case cannot be publicly disclosed.
However, where possible, certaindetails have been included. The main goal of this article is
to provide an overview of the specific process used to work this cold case as part of an
academic course and outline the steps for others to replicate our efforts, as this has not yet
been provided in the literature. Specifically, we describe in detail the process used to
“work” the cold case, provide evidence-based research that will aid in understanding and
investigating cold cases such as eyewitness identifications, effective interviewing and
interrogation strategies, and psychological profiling, and overview the important lessons
learned, and advice for academics and practitioners undertaking similar collaborative
efforts in the future.
Challenges faced working cold cases
Cold cases are generally defined as an open case where significant investigative efforts were
exhausted and the case has gone inactive for any period of time (Regoeczi et al. ,2008;
Walton, 2006). Cold cases could be just a few weeks old or go unsolved f or decades.
Consequently, each cold case presents unique challenges depending upon the age, quality
of evidence and documentation of the original crime. The top three ways that investigators
obtain new leads and solve cold cases are as follows:
1. Newly identified or re-tested forensic evidence.
2. Renewed attention from the media, family or agency leadership.
3. Suspects or witnesses who come forward with case information as the result of new
crimes and related plea agreements (Davis et al., 2011).
Consequently, pursuing any of these three aspects appears to be a beneficial strategy
when addressing cold cases. However, there are instances when one of these occurs, but
no successful leads are generated, and the case remains cold. This poses substantial
problems for the victim, agency and community, as the crime goes unsolved and the
offender remains free to re-offendout on the streets.
There are several other issues associated with cold cases remaining unsolved, which are
generally related to the costs for police departments, stress on the detectives and negative
impact on the victim, their family and the community at large. Specifically, extant research
indicates that cold case investigations are quite costly, often requiring years of work from
PAGE 94 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jVOL. 10 NO. 2 2020

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