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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

SFPD Dedicates New Resources to Cold Cases

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2007 at 2:17 PM

Staff of five detectives to examine old unsolved murders for new leads amid high murder rate, low conviction rate

By Benjamin Wachs

If you got away with murder two decades ago, this may not be your year. Late last month the San Francisco Police Department created its first full time “cold case” unit.

Hey … this kinda sounds like a TV pilot.

The unit comes at a time of plunging arrest rates for new homicides and other crimes. According to a 2003 report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), cold cases are most likely to crop up during a time of rising homicide rates (like now) and overtaxed ...

police resources (like now). Too big a backlog can shake community confidence in the police’s ability to protect its citizens (like last week).

Homicides are also more likely to become cold cases if they involve “gang- and drug-related deaths; cases involving immigrants, transients, and homeless or unidentified people; unclassified deaths; and unsolved police shootings.”

The new cold case unit will begin its work by going through the really old cases to see if new technology can lead to an arrest, according to Police Captain Kevin Cashman.

“Years ago DNA was not a factor, but in the case files that we’re reviewing there may be DNA evidence making those crimes very solvable now,” he said. “But those cases will still require heavy investigation. DNA’s evidence isn’t an automatic arrest, it’s just like getting a huge lead.”

The unit will be made up of two senior homicide detectives who have been transferred to this new division, 2 retired SFPD homicide inspectors who have been brought back, and one retired chief of the District Attorney’s investigating unit. Together, they will plunge into old cases and … man, this REALLY sounds like a TV pilot.

Cashman said the new emphasis on cold cases is coming up now because, frankly, the homicide unit finally had enough senior investigators to spare a few. “We’d just made three additional appointments to homicide, and it seemed like a good time to get more people to work cold cases.”

The team’s goal, he said: to fill the system up. “We want to solve every homicide."

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David Downs

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