The San Joaquin County 2018-2019 Civil Grand Jury on Friday, May 31 released its report investigating various municipal and county law enforcement agencies throughout the County to determine the status of cold case investigations. The Civil Grand Jury’s duty is to address citizens’ concerns regarding the operation of local government entities.
As part of the investigation, the Grand Jury sought to: (1) determine the number of cold case homicides, sexual assaults, and missing persons with suspicious circumstances, and (2) examine the staffing, funding, processes, and effectiveness of cold case investigations in San Joaquin County. In the course of the investigation, various administrative and investigative personnel from law enforcement agencies throughout San Joaquin County were interviewed. The Grand Jury also conducted a cold case survey of various law enforcement agencies in San Joaquin County. In addition, numerous materials pertaining to cold case investigations were reviewed. The Grand Jury also toured the California Department of Justice crime laboratory in Ripon.
In the course of its investigation, the Grand Jury found that cold case investigations in San Joaquin County have experienced minimal rewards due primarily to the lack of priority in staffing and funding such investigations. The Grand Jury responded with a number of recommendations to improve the current state of cold case investigations in San Joaquin County.
The various municipal and county law enforcement agencies are required to submit a response to the Presiding Judge of San Joaquin County Superior Court within 90 days as to each finding and recommendation contained in the Grand Jury’s report.
Criminologists estimate that at least 200,000 homicides have gone unsolved in America since the 1960’s. The national “clearance rate” for homicide today is approximately 64 percent, which translates to about a one in three chance that police won’t identify a murderer. Estimates for unsolved homicides in California exceed 33,000 between 1980 and 2008. The California Attorney General’s Office does not currently keep a list of unsolved or cold case homicides, thus leaving it up to individual police departments to track such cases themselves.
Cold cases are typically some of the most difficult and complex cases to work. They require seasoned investigators and dedicated staff that is focused solely on cold cases as their first priority.
This investigation revealed that there are currently only three individuals who are specifically assigned to investigate cold cases in San Joaquin County. None of these individuals is currently working on cold case investigations full-time. Stockton Police Department has one retired detective working part-time (16-20 hours/week; maximum 960 hours/year); San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department – one full-time sergeant working less than 25 percent of the time on cold case investigations; and San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office – one full-time investigator working approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of the time on cold case investigations.
There are more than 500 cold case homicides in San Joaquin County, including at least 12 homicide victims whose remains have never been positively identified. The exact number of cold case homicides is unknown due to the lack of a consistent “cold case” definition and the lack of a digitized tracking system.
Cold case homicide investigations in San Joaquin County rarely result in case closure, arrest or prosecution. This is a contributing factor to the increasing number of cold case homicides in San Joaquin County.
There is insufficient staffing and funding for cold case investigations in San Joaquin County due primarily to financial limitations and lack of priority.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff and the San Joaquin County District Attorney utilize budget options and staffing reassignments as necessary to provide the equivalent of at least three full-time Sheriff’s Detectives and at least two full-time District Attorney’s Investigators dedicated solely to cold case investigations no later than Dec. 31, 2019.
The City of Stockton utilize budget options and staffing reassignments as necessary to provide the equivalent of at least three full-time Police Detectives dedicated solely to cold case investigations no later than Dec. 31, 2019.
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office establish a Cold Case Task Force and each law enforcement agency in San Joaquin County sign a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the Cold Case Task Force no later than March 31, 2020.
Each law enforcement agency in San Joaquin County expand their definition of “cold case” to include missing persons with suspicious circumstances, and sexual assault (forcible rape and attempted rape), in addition to homicide no later than March 31, 2020.