In-Brief Report Series: Digital Transformation of Cold Case Reviews

In-Brief Report Series: Digital Transformation of Cold Case Reviews


November 2022


Advances in forensic science and investigative capabilities represent opportunities and challenges for allied criminal justice professionals involved in violent crime cold case investigations. Modern techniques and technologies can uncover important insights that may not have been previously possible; however, law enforcement and other associated agencies can struggle to effectively manage and use the large amounts of information associated with a cold case. Factors such as a lack of case file organization, decentralization of documents, and the time-intensive process of manually searching paper records for relevant details make it difficult to identify cases that may benefit from the application of modern techniques and technologies.

Tracking down and extracting relevant information to create an informed forensic or investigative strategy is both time and resource intensive. Multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) may look to technology to digitize paper cold case records, thus enabling multiple agencies on a secured network to search, share, and access files. The digitization of case files may support the future implementation of text analytics tools, which are enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and can quickly identify key details, relationships, and patterns within or between case file records. Applying AI to the cold case review process can help MDTs become more agile and efficient in collaborating and developing valuable forensic and investigative strategies.

This three-part in-brief series highlights the potential value, approaches, and considerations for digital transformation of cold case files and the case review process. Although created for cold case MDTs with an emphasis on the role of law enforcement and forensic science service provider (FSSP) involvement, this series is valuable for all FSSPs involved in an MDT and criminal justice decision-makers. The information presented within these in-briefs can be applied to and benefit all cases regardless of the passage of time.

In-Brief #1

Digital Transformation of Cold Case Reviews: Prevalence, Challenges, and Benefits of Just Resolutions

This in-brief focuses on the importance of the cold case review process and the potential impact digital transformation may have on that process.

“Criminal investigations have been compared to a jigsaw puzzle. Volumes of information can be generated in an original investigation, and any number of professionals (investigators, laboratory staff, and prosecutors) may have been involved. In addition to applying new technology to evidence, advancements in the digitization of records and correlation capabilities can also aid in identifying new investigative leads.”

- National Best Practices for Implementing and Sustaining a Cold Case Investigation Unit 1, p. 58

In-Brief #2

Digital Transformation of Cold Case Reviews: Digitizing Case Files

This in-brief focuses on the processes and resources available for agencies and MDTs to digitize their cold case files and how that allows for the application of text analytics.

“There is no detective who doesn’t recognize the need and value of digitizing cold case files.”

- Tom McAndrew | Pennsylvania State Police, Criminal Investigations Unit, retired; Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office, Homicide Task Force

In-Brief #3

Digital Transformation of Cold Case Reviews: The Application of Text Analytics

This in-brief focuses on the value of text analytics and steps that MDTs may take to adopt these technologies for cold case files.

“We’re constantly implementing new technology and go back to the cases to use it where old technology failed. We want to identify these cases without hand searching. With our high volumes of cases, we need to work smarter.”

- Carol Schweitzer | Supervisor, Forensic Services Unit, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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