why cases go cold

5 Reasons Why Cases Go Cold

It’s not always human error

By: Joseph L. Giacalone


There are a number of reasons why cases go cold. Things beyond your control happen. Yes, mistakes made by investigators is a factor that cannot be ignored, however, many times it goes well beyond that. Errors, once recognized can be corrected for future generations of law enforcement investigators. The following five (5) reasons go beyond human error and with the right police supervision, they can be avoided.

1.  Inexperienced investigators

2.  Lack of personnel

3.  Relying too much on forensics

4.  Retirements / Promotions / Transfers

5.  Lack of public cooperation

Inexperienced Investigators

There is a trend going on in the United States – crime is going down, but crime clearance rates are going down too. Most police departments in the United States have fewer than twenty sworn officers so there is little chance of obtaining the required training due to budgetary issues. The uniformed police officer that arrives at the scene could be responsible for photographing, collecting and packaging evidence. Training is the most important aspect of the job, but so few get it.

Lack of Personnel

Even in large municipal police departments personnel staffing has become an issue. During the economic downturn, many departments laid officers off, reassigned others and stopped hiring altogether. When you take into consideration the usual retirements, many departments are understaffed.

Relying too much on Forensics

The demand by juries and prosecutor’s to “see” forensic evidence at trials, has led somewhat to an over-reliance on it. Unlike TV shows, there is no magic button to press on computers to identify suspects. It was and always will be, old-fashioned police work that solves crimes. Unfortunately, I believe that relying too much on forensics, the lack of training and personnel could set clearance rates back even further. All of the technological advances have not led to higher clearance rates. What else could be the reason?

Retirement / Promotions / Transfers

Nothing could sidetrack a case faster than a retirement or promotion. Investigating supervisors must be prepared to reassign cases as soon as a detective is transferred promoted or retires. Ideally, the supervisor should request a synopsis of each open case and what has been done, what is being done and what needs to be done.

Lack of Cooperation from the Public

The best of investigations are often supplemented by help from the public. Whether information is obtained during neighborhood canvasses or through a Crime Stoppers hotline, civilians often hold the important pieces of the crime puzzle.

Unfortunately, this short list is not every reason that a case could remain open, but are the most common. The good thing is that they are all fixable to a degree. Experience and education are the most important aspects that investigators need to close more cases.

If you have any other reasons why cases remain open, please leave them in the comments section.

Here are the 2015 Case Clearance Information from the FBI UCR

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