New Technology and Old Police Work Solve Cold Sex Crimes

Article excerpt

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In 2001, when the court system convicted a serial rapist of multiple sexual assaults in both Arizona and Florida, a new dawn began for his victims. During cross-examination, victim after victim described how their lives had been changed forever. The rapist's life sentence, though, finally gave his victims the chance to return their lives to normalcy. Many victims had experienced dramatic life changes, and they had been waiting months, or even years, for a conviction. The credit for arriving at this point goes first to the victims for surviving and never giving up hope and, second, to the detectives who diligently pursued these cases while employing new technology to uncover the guilty suspect.

The offender's rapes spanned over 20 years, and police speculate that the total number of rapes he committed could register in the hundreds. After confessing to some recent crimes under investigation by the Phoenix, Arizona, Police Department, the rapist also began to describe details of numerous other unsolved crimes still carried by police departments across the country. In essence, these investigations had gone cold, but the Phoenix Police Department began to see an opportunity arising. Could it solve some unsolved crimes by reinvestigating and trying to match known offenders to these unsolved crimes? Realizing that sex crime offenders have expansive careers and analyzing the rapist's span of crimes, the Phoenix Police Department determined that solving serial sex crimes needed a new formula.

ESTABLISHING A COLD CASE TEAM

Across the United States, hundreds of unsolved sexual assault crimes exist. What happens to the victims of these cases? Many of the victims still may be living in a state of fear or shock. Moreover, nonresolution by police in high-profile cases erodes victims' and the public's confidence in the justice system, and this same nonresolution empowers suspects to believe that they can beat the system. Upon completion of the serial rapist's case, the Phoenix Police Department conducted an internal audit of its resources and began to ask many questions. How can thousands of victims be better served? How can victims be given new hope and confidence that their cases will remain priorities with local police departments? Within most sex crimes units, detectives' tenures fluctuate, and investigations are worked until all leads are exhausted and have resulted in no suspects. The Phoenix Police Department realized that reopening these cold cases, solving the complex crimes, linking multiple offenses, tapping into new DNA technology, and presenting a resolution to the victims represented department priorities. After all, a component of community-based policing includes solving crimes.

Early in the audit, the department realized that this effort deserved a multidisciplinary team approach. The department's investigation, laboratory, and victim services divisions all combined to form the nucleus of the team. With a strong nucleus assembled, the department explored outside its doors for additional partners in the effort. Through good public relations and hard work, the department secured grant funding for the program and solidified the strong, existing relationship with the local prosecutor's office. With assembly of the team finished, the first cold case sex crime team devoted specifically to investigating sexual assaults could offer new hope for many sexual assault victims.

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DEVELOPING A STRATEGY

The internal audit of the Phoenix Police Department revealed over 1,700 sexual assault examination kits gathering dust while waiting for evaluation and screening. In addition, over 700 new sexual assaults were being reported each year. The first priority of the new cold case team became gaining a genuine commitment from the entire chain of command of the police department. By gaining a commitment and a vow of cooperation from every officer, including the chief, this goal was reached, allowing investigators to begin research. …