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Solving Cold Cases | Texas begins new effort to help understaffed local law enforcement

The new office hopes to give law enforcement more resources to lower the number of unsolved homicides in the state. There are currently 19,000.

TEXAS, USA — The Texas Office of the Attorney General has created a new unit to help local law enforcement solve cold cases across the state.

The new Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit is expected to be up and running by the end of November.

According to the office, there are currently just more than 19,000 unsolved homicides.

Mindy Montford serves as the Senior Counsel in the new office. She is spearheading the project. She used to work cold cases in the Travis County District Attorney's Office. She said she's seen firsthand law enforcement's limitations solving them.

"Cold case gives the impression that no one cares sometimes and that it's left behind. And so we are trying to bring some life back into some of these cases," Montford said.

For decades-old cases, Montford said investigators could have little to go on. Evidence may not have been stored properly and people needed for questioning could have moved away or died. Montford said it all comes down to resources and funding.

"I think that's the reason we are starting this unit to provide assistance to the local police departments but also to bring justice and closure to these families," Montford said.

The office will serve as a one-stop-shop to connect police departments with resources both in Texas and across the country. 

A panel of retired experts in the field of genealogy, forensics, law, and law enforcement will also be able to triage a case and offer assistance any way they can.

"We actually issued a survey across Texas and we had about 400 PDs respond and one of the main things they said they needed, number one: they don't have cold case detectives working full-time on cold cases," Montford said.

According to the survey, only 5% of police departments have a dedicated cold case unit. And for the few that do, there are only 1-3 members on the team. About 80% of departments have no one working part-time.

"We knew that there was a need out there in the state for the AG's office to step in and provide assistance," Montford said.

Steve DuBois is now retired from the law enforcement job he worked for more than 30 years. He's now the executive director of Season of Justice a non-profit that gives out grants anywhere from one to thirty thousand dollars to police departments for DNA testing.

"I think our grant total now is just shy of a quarter-million dollars and we are in 14-15 states Canada 31+ cases," DuBois said at the time of the interview.

The amount of money given has grown to just shy of $268,000 and 36 case assists since the publication of this article. 

The non-profit is just one of many resources brought to law enforcement's attention with the new Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit.

DuBois said DNA testing can be critical in a cold case, but many times a police department may not have enough funds for the costly test or are forced to wait for their turn at the state-run labs.

"A lot of the testing that we do the state labs don't do or there's a six month to a year wait, DuBois said. "And then some of these court cases if they've become hot they need to move now just like an active homicide."

6 News checked with Waco, Killeen, and Temple's police departments.

Killeen Police Assistant Chief Alex Gearhart said the department does not have a cold case unit. Instead, they have a five-person homicide team that investigates current cases and new leads on cold cases.

"While looking at cold cases, we have to rely heavily on the initial investigation when it was conducted," Gearhart said. "In most cases, procedures and technologies available to investigators have changed significantly since the crime occurred."

Temple police said cold cases are reviewed yearly for things that may have changed and if there are new opportunities, the case is assigned to an investigator. The investigator will then split their time between the cold case and active cases.

"Currently, 5 cold cases are assigned and being actively investigated,"  spokesperson Alejandra Arreguin said.

The Waco Police Department said they recently appointed a member of the Special Crimes Unit to investigate cold cases full-time. Other detectives rotate between cold and active cases.

"We’d love to have you know three detectives focus on cold cases but right now we just don’t have that manpower so we’re starting out with one," spokesperson Cierra Shipley said.

Shipley said they have 120 cold cases dating back to 1973. She added she looks forward to working with the AG's office in the future.

"It would be a tremendous help really," Shipley said. "The more agencies we have working together the quicker we might be able to solve a cold case."