Just How Cold Is My Case?

            As a young detective, there was nothing more depressing than seeing my caseload grow by five for every one case I closed.  As I sipped my coffee from my “ I heart donuts” mug some well-meaning joker got me, I tried to formulate a plan to manage the growing pile of reports—a triage if you will.  Some ideas worked and some fizzled as other factors interrupted my scheme throughout the day.  One thing that never left my mind was: what about the victim?
            At some point, statistically, you will be a crime victim if you are not one already.  Serious violent crimes and sex crimes will usually get the attention they deserve.  All of the other crimes that seem commonplace like burglary, identity theft, assault, and vandalism are often the more difficult cases to get closure on.  This leads me to this discussion of what you may expect from the law enforcement agency that gets your case.
The Onset of Your Crime Report
            Whether it is the GPS that was taken from your dashboard or the graffiti on your new eco-friendly fence, you will more likely call the police to report the crime.  To you, this is the crime of the century, right? I mean really, some crook or “evil doer” (depending on your political affiliation) violated you and your space.  You want justice and you want it 5 minutes ago.  In any case, demand a police report for all felonies and all property crimes.  The patrol officers in that area need to be aware of the criminal activity in your neighborhood.  Further, this data supports the job of the crime analyst who often times plays a vital role in patrol deployment.  If you feel you may be getting the run around and a report may not be filed, ask for the case number for future reference.  If there is no case number then there is no report.
            Make sure the crime is investigated thoroughly.  Now I am not suggesting that the cast of CSI will show-up with black lights and instant DNA analyzers.  However, ensure that pictures are taken if necessary and forensic evidence is not ignored.  Many jurisdictions have highly trained officers and civilian technicians that can complete these functions at the time of the report. 
            Lastly, ALWAYS canvass for witnesses.  In most cases, the officer will do this during the report phase.  If not, you can wear out some shoe leather and hit up your neighbors yourself.  Turn over any leads that you develop to the assigned detective. Lets face it, we all have a “Mrs. Kravitz” on our block that does not miss a trick.  In fact, she is probably looking out her window right now wondering why the mail courier is late. 
Will this case be worked?
            The first time I heard the expression “it is what it is” was my first week as a rookie gumshoe.  An old salty detective reminded that some cases just can’t be worked.  Metaphors like, “don’t spin your wheels” seemed to utter over my cubicle like the dingy air from any old government building.  So, what would I spin my wheels on?  Here are few things that will give your case life:  
  • Forensics- fingerprints, DNA, etc.
  • Workable leads, like a suspect or full to partial license plate
  • A credible eye witness
  • Surveillance cameras
  • Other new revelations like: stolen property being sold on-line, etc.
  • In some bigger cases-press release and media involvement 

          If your case is lacking these factors, you can very well count on it being closed “pending further leads”.  In addition, be realistic.  If you were Tweeting on your Twitter and left your prized Members Only jacket at the coffee shop for some other lucky guy to walk off with, your case may not be worked at all.  I always loved these cases, but  more for the reason of laughter and the occasional hot coffee through my nose.  This should not discourage you completely.  Be the squeaky wheel and keep in touch with the detective assigned to your case.  Especially, if you feel there were leads that were not pursued.  I guarantee that if it were the mayor’s GPS taken from their car, the world would stop for the day until every rock was overturned.
            About the Author- Cameron Knauerhaze, M.A. is the President of the Board for Crime Survivors Inc.  He is also a 15- year law enforcement professional with an extensive background in investigations. He is currently a patrol supervisor assigned to the operations division at a Orange County, CA. police agency.