King County losing cold-case unit

SATURDAY, NOV. 24, 2012

Loss of federal funding means division can’t survive

SEATTLE – The King County sheriff’s office is closing its cold-case unit at the end of the year, despite some notable successes, because the squad has run out of money.

The team was started in 2009 with money from a federal grant. The grant was renewed in 2011 and officials had hoped for another renewal this year, but that didn’t happen, the Seattle Times reported in Friday’s newspaper.

Since its formation, the squad has identified suspects in at least eight slayings. Some cases resulted in convictions, some determined that the likely killer had died, and, in some, detectives are still coordinating with county prosecutors before the case goes to trial.

The county still has 228 unsolved missing person and homicide cases dating to the 1940s.

“Loss of the funding is a real blow, and it means some cases will likely go unsolved,” said King County Sheriff-elect John Urquhart.

The unit did its best to stretch federal grant money, said Major Crimes Unit Sgt. Jesse Anderson. The Metropolitan King County Council supplemented the squad’s budget this summer with enough money to make it to the end of the year.

With the budget tight, it’s unlikely the Sheriff’s Office will be able to reinstate the squad on its own, Anderson said. Fraud and domestic-violence squads have been cut in recent years, and it’s hard to argue that a cold-case unit would be more important than those, he said.

Evidence from unsolved cold cases will remain in a Kent warehouse should a new tip bring a homicide detective back to an old investigation. But there likely won’t be time to pursue a cold-case otherwise – especially not on a full-time basis.

Detective Jim Allen said full-time dedication to a cold case is essential because having the details fresh in mind is what leads to breakthroughs. Trying to make time for such cases between new assignments doesn’t work, he said.

“By the time you re-review everything, your window of opportunity to work on it is gone and you’re back to the day-to-day. You just don’t solve cases that way.”

“These are a real puzzle to figure out,” Allen said. “It requires thinking outside the box.”

In addition to focusing on specific cold cases, the squad’s crime analyst works on digitizing as much evidence as possible so that files are more accessible and less subject to degradation. At least 126 cases have been reviewed so far, Anderson said. When detectives are lucky, evidence such as fingerprints and DNA in a cold-case file matches information in their crime database.


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