Most of us across the US have had difficulties dealing with law enforcement. Particularly disparaging are situations where the police have “done all they can do”, and still your child is missing. Still there are no viable leads. Even more heartrending is waiting year after year as the case grows colder and colder, with little to no activity. Many become frustrated, even hateful toward law enforcement, and end up hopeless.

Rather than blame the police, peace comes as we seek to understand what it means when law enforcement says “...all we can do.” Even more, hope is restored when we can understand things we can do to assist in increasing the sovlability of a case and then put it back in the hands of the police detectives for prosecution and resolution.

A document produced by the Iowa City Police Department, titled, Investigative Case Screening Process, lays out most clearly the policies involved in determining follow-up on a case. Their policies and procedures for deciding whether a case should be continued are found to be common in law enforcement departments across the US. Understanding their procedures and policies makes clear what is meant by “...all we can do”, for such is determined and directed by law.

Although, in our minds, these can be considered restrictive, limiting how far they can go on a case, let us be mindful of the fact that law enforcement is one element of the legal process. Another of the elements in this legal process is the common citizens of each community--us. You and me. Though we ought to not attempt to replace the police, we do need to strive to support and assist them--by telling what we do know in all truth and praying through cases to see what more can be done or discovered.

As much as there are things police can do that common citizens lawfully cannot, frankly, there are things we can do that they cannot. Together, we can solve lots more and be a vessel of justice and peace.

That said, let us consider the policies and procedures outlined in the Iowa Investigative Case Screening Process and see how, as integral, concerned citizens we can assist. Keep in mind, also, of the jurisdictional limitations each department has as we review the procedures.

Under the heading Procedures, we find the first section, Case Screening Criteria, Solvability Factors. This is crucial for understanding what could cause a case to grow cold. So over the next few weeks we will linger here. For now, though, the list is as follows:

  • Reliable witness
  • Suspect names
  • Suspect described
  • Suspect location
  • Suspect identified
  • Suspect previously seen
  • Suspect vehicle described
  • Traceable property
  • Significant M. O. (modus operandi, or method of operation)
  • Useable physical evidence
  • Limited opportunity for anyone other than suspect to commit the crime
  • Offense may be solved with reasonable additional investment/effort

This is the “Criteria that is used to be used as a guide to determine whether a case will receive follow-up investigation....” Though the document is dated 2001, the criteria is still fairly textbook policy across the Nation.

Be mindful in prayer about the fact that although law enforcement must prioritize investigations by what is practical, we can, by God’s grace, go beyond--without being unlawful or unrealistic. Rather than be overcome by anger and hopelessness, let us learn to get focused so that we may bring heat to these cold, cold cases. 

Ref: Iowa Police Dept.: Investigative Case Screening Process_PDF