Cold case squads

I've seen news stories in the past about cold case squads composed of retired law enforcement officers. But a recent story about these squads appearing in the May/June 2007 issue of "AARP Magazine" really piqued my curiosity. I have to ask — why aren't more departments doing this?

Don't get me wrong; there's definitely an interest in cold case investigation, and a substantial number of agencies have discovered the merits of putting retirees back to work. But in these times, when both money and experience are hard to come by, why aren't the two being combined more often?

I've seen firsthand the attitude agencies can have toward retired officers. Because technology and technique are so fluid in this business, with constant change, realignment of tactics and shifts in legislation, there's a tendency to think of retirees as "being out of it" for too long. Simply because a department has redrawn its zones or changed to a different shift schedule is no reason to think that retirees can't be valuable currency to a law enforcement agency — and not in the way many want to use them.

A lot of former officers would welcome the chance to do something meaningful in their former profession. When there's a large-scale investigation reported in the newspaper, most suffer a twinge of longing — they'd love to be back in action. But the majority don't want to fight drunks at 3 a.m. because they know, even if they are physically fit, active-duty officers are better suited to working patrol.

For myself, I can truthfully say I don't want to spend 12 hours in a patrol car working a midnight shift. I'll leave it to the full-time patrol officers, the ones who know their beats, call all of the street people by name, know their associates and can tell you where they hang out, while staying abreast of the latest weapons and drugs on the streets. They understand their jobs and do them well. They don't need my help.

And please — I know it isn't meant as an insult — but don't offer retirees a chance to be crossing guards or answer phones. I know some might find it stimulating, but most won't. Be very sure the person you ask to do these tasks is really open to the suggestion before making it.

Instead, why not do what departments all over the nation have done and put some of these experienced former officers to better use working on cold cases? Although departments can have their own cold case squads populated by active duty officers, why not shift those investigators to new cases and let the cases that linger in the evidence room in boxes covered with dust be handled by willing and knowledgeable volunteers?

Your community may be the home of retirees from many different agencies, including a few federal ones. Why not tap into those resources? By doing so you can resolve cases for families still waiting for justice and at the same time, not only put the perpetrators in jail, but make your community a safer place.

To be fair, there are some issues associated with using retirees. Some communities choose not to use officers who have retired from their own departments. Most have found it desirable to swear in retirees, grant them powers of arrest to allow access to investigative materials and aid them when they take a case through the criminal justice system.

In an age when police budgets are strained to the maximum and qualified personnel are hard to find, it seems a no-brainer to pick the best candidates from your pool of retired and former criminal justice officers and ask for their help. In return your agency will receive the benefit of decades of experience, as well as a possible resolution to cases often sitting, untouched, in some forgotten file cabinet stashed in the basement.

A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore@ec.rr.com.

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