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  #1  
Old 08-03-2011, 08:46 PM
Quasimodem Quasimodem is offline
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Can The General Public Work On "Cold Case" Files?

Why can't I, as common ordinary John Q Slobb, walk into a major city police department and ask to see one of these files and take a shot? IIRC, aren't those files public record anyway?

Thanks

Q
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  #2  
Old 08-03-2011, 11:10 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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I don't think they are public records. They contain sensitive, embarrassing, and sometimes critical information that let's the police know if someone is telling the truth. No one would tell the police that information if they thought it was going to be broadcast to the general public.
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  #3  
Old 08-04-2011, 03:51 AM
Noel Prosequi Noel Prosequi is offline
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Because investigation is a specialist professional skill. TV shows flatter their audiences that anyone could do it because it just takes common sense, but that is simply rubbish designed to make the audience identify with the hero. What does Joe Sixpack know about taking statements, recording evidence, generating running sheets and all the myriad paperwork that comes with the job? There is a mountain of technical shit that you need to know that is jurisdiction specific that you can't just intuitively guess.

For most cold cases, the police usually have a very good idea who it is who committed the offence, they just can't get quite enough to nail the suspect. There is no magical genius amateur detective work that will fix that. All the super-duper forensic science stuff has been done to exhaustion. They are waiting for someone in the suspect's camp to break solidarity, or for the suspect to foolishly brag to an associate, that sort of thing.
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Old 08-04-2011, 04:16 AM
Martin Hyde Martin Hyde is offline
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I know that things like arrest records are public record and can be obtained by anyone who knows how to file the paper work. However, I don't believe that is the case for documents pertaining to a still open investigation. Imagine the implications of that...the perpetrator could put in a request to get the investigation's documents and use them to know exactly how much progress had been made and what angles he needs to try and obscure the evidence on to avoid capture or successful prosecution.

So I very seriously doubt you can get police investigation files of an open case. You and any other citizen is absolutely, 100% free to investigate a cold case using other means though. You can take interviews, you can do various sorts of research. You could in theory analyze evidence if you found it, although I think if you came upon anything along the lines of physical evidence your responsibility is to report it to police and not mess with it.
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  #5  
Old 08-04-2011, 09:14 PM
Quasimodem Quasimodem is offline
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So.... ummmm..... what if I got myself deputized? I used to be a cop in the USAF. (had to be to get into crypto), and I'm pretty sure I could pass a background check. (Unless they find that arrest for being a Viet Nam War Protester).

My angle is, sometimes a fresh look by someone not so close to the case might reveal something they missed - such as a missing body, maybe?

Thanks

Quasi
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  #6  
Old 08-05-2011, 06:20 AM
bare bare is offline
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Google Silvia Pettem http://www.silviapettem.com/

I think folks do stuff like this all over the country.
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  #7  
Old 08-05-2011, 08:51 AM
anson2995 anson2995 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Hyde View Post
So I very seriously doubt you can get police investigation files of an open case.
This is true in all states that I'm aware of.

Amateur investigators are free to dig into cold cases, but I think it's awfully presumptuous to think there's stuff in the file that's been overlooked. Cold cases squads typically do what you suggest, bring a fresh look at the evidence to see if anything's been missed.

But cases don't get solved by pouring over documents. They get solved by pounding the pavement. Investigators can get warrants (for searches, arrests, and discovery), and they do interviews with witnesses and suspects. it's the new info they turn up that solves cases.

As a reporter, I've covered some cold cases and spent enough time around cops/lawyers/families to know how these things go.

Last edited by anson2995; 08-05-2011 at 08:52 AM..
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  #8  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:18 AM
Napier Napier is offline
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I think having the general public work on cold case files would help expose new suspects. This is because the people who want to work on a given case are way more likely to be the perpetrator than random citizens are.
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Old 08-06-2011, 11:18 AM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Hyde View Post
... although I think if you came upon anything along the lines of physical evidence your responsibility is to report it to police and not mess with it.
This is always a danger. If some random Joe Wannabee decides to play private detective and discovers a murder weapon, they may not know how to properly document it and preserve it as evidence. If he just takes it and sticks it in his garage while he contemplates what to do with his reward, once the gun gets to the police it has lost much of its provenance and the defense attorney may be able to shoot holes in it (lol) and say that because the gun came out of someone's garage where who knows who did what to it, it is unreliable evidence and proves nothing.
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  #10  
Old 08-06-2011, 04:25 PM
Quasimodem Quasimodem is offline
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These are very interesting (and very informative!) replies, but so far, I haven't seen one addressing being deputized to be able to look at those files?

Thanks

Q
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  #11  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:25 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by anson2995 View Post
This is true in all states that I'm aware of.

Amateur investigators are free to dig into cold cases, but I think it's awfully presumptuous to think there's stuff in the file that's been overlooked. Cold cases squads typically do what you suggest, bring a fresh look at the evidence to see if anything's been missed.

But cases don't get solved by pouring over documents. They get solved by pounding the pavement. Investigators can get warrants (for searches, arrests, and discovery), and they do interviews with witnesses and suspects. it's the new info they turn up that solves cases.

As a reporter, I've covered some cold cases and spent enough time around cops/lawyers/families to know how these things go.
I'm sure this is true in most places with most police forces. But there are certainly places with corrupt, incompetent, or simply overwhelmed police who don't have the time, inclination or resources to investigate even serious crimes.

Not that it matters a whole lot, because it is extremely unlikely they will admit any such problems in public.

My father lived in Harvey, Illinois more than half his life, a real crime ridden sucky town if there ever was one. Twice he called 911 over bodies lying in the alley next to his house, at least one of them being an obvious murder. The police never asked him a single question in either case. They seemed to operate in conjunction with the sanitation department -- they just picked up the bodies and carried them away.

They also robbed my dad's corpse when he died in his home.

Last edited by Boyo Jim; 08-06-2011 at 05:26 PM..
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  #12  
Old 08-06-2011, 05:33 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Originally Posted by Quasimodem View Post
These are very interesting (and very informative!) replies, but so far, I haven't seen one addressing being deputized to be able to look at those files?

Thanks

Q
I don't think there's a fixed answer to this. If you can meet with senior police officials and convince them of your capabilities and your willingness to work for free, you might be able to swing a deal with them. I have heard of a few large cities that have very similar setups for retired cops who want to volunteer their services.

I wouldn't know what to suggest other than walking into the largest city cop HQ in the area and starting to ask questions. My guess is that if they have such a group and you have investigative experience, you might have a shot. If they don't have such a group, and have to create such a program for you, your chances go way down. And if your prior experience isn't as an investigator, then your odds drop pretty much down to the floor.
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  #13  
Old 08-06-2011, 07:42 PM
anson2995 anson2995 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quasimodem View Post
These are very interesting (and very informative!) replies, but so far, I haven't seen one addressing being deputized to be able to look at those files?
Yeah, that's never going to happen.
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  #14  
Old 08-07-2011, 11:49 AM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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Originally Posted by Quasimodem View Post
These are very interesting (and very informative!) replies, but so far, I haven't seen one addressing being deputized to be able to look at those files?

Thanks

Q
First things first: The first question is "Why would a police department want you to do what they can't do?" What is your answer to that? 'Giving a fresh perspective' isn't the deal-closer that you may think it is. What is your follow up answer?
Secondly, you may screw something up if you aren't trained in proper procedure, as pointed out above. If you do screw up something, what is the person/department going to say to those to whom he is accountable? 'Well, he thought that he might be able to give us insight, once we made our records available to him!' may not get the accolades that seem so deserved.
And, what if the PD is sitting on some info that is known only to the perpetrator, hoping that he'll tip his hand? Shall they give this to Joe Schlubb, hoping he'll see their wisdom, and maintain their confidence?

In short, give me/them one good reason to do what you want them to do.

Best wishes,
hh

Last edited by handsomeharry; 08-07-2011 at 11:52 AM..
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