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Cold Case Squads: Leaving No Stone Unturned

NCJ Number
Ryan Turner; Rachel Kosa
Date Published
July 2003
8 pages
This document describes the elements of cold case squads.
A cold case squad may be a viable option for a jurisdiction that is plagued by a significant number of unsolved murders. Some cold case squads are formed because the volume of new cases or police initiatives prevents any work from being done on old cases. Some squads are formed out of convenience when a decline in new murder cases provides departments with the personnel and other resources necessary to begin investigating old cases. The specific duties of cold case squads vary among law enforcement agencies. Nearly all of these squads review and continue the investigation of unsolved homicides or suspected homicides in which the lead detective initially assigned has retired, transferred, or otherwise left the case. Cold case squads can be useful in locating and working with past and potential witnesses and reviewing physical evidence to identify suspects. Cold case squads also perform an outreach and networking role by assisting other jurisdictions with homicide investigations as appropriate. The most important component of cold case squads is personnel; the squads must have the right mix of investigative and supervisory talent. Cold case squads can consist of a single full-time investigator, occasional squads, or interdepartmental partnerships. Cold case squads usually include at least a supervisor or team manager, a supervisor to coordinate daily operations, and investigators. Squads may also use the services of agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, coroner’s office, or internal and external specialists. Not all cold case squads reside in municipal police departments. The branches of the military investigate cold cases involving homicides that occurred on military bases or involved military personnel. Traits considered essential for cold case investigators include seniority, strong communication and interpersonal skills, strong research skills, patience, creativity, persistence, high motivation level, and enthusiasm for the job. The process by which cases are reviewed and considered for referral to the cold case squad varies. Cases are reviewed and prioritized according to the likelihood of an eventual solution.