RACINE - City police are taking a new look at old homicides.
The Police Department has recently re-evaluated all of its cold cases for solvability, and assigned one investigator to work on them full time.
"All the cases are important to us," said Deputy Chief Art Howell. "We want to bring closure to all the families."
Recently, investigators were asked to evaluate more than 50 open murder cases for solvability, looking at evidence, witnesses, the original investigation and any suspect information.
The cold case screening allowed them to come up with a top 10 list of the most solvable cold cases, according to Howell.
Now, police will be making a concentrated effort to close the unsolved homicides.
Some of the department's investigators - including Jim Prioletta, Al Fellion and Brent Hutchinson - had already been working on cold cases on their own, while also carrying a full case load. "There are detectives here that have a certain passion for certain cases," Howell said. "They've developed a relationship with family members. They have a desire to solve cases."
But those investigators were never able to spend a lot of time on the cold cases. That has now changed.
Prioletta has been assigned full time as the department's cold case detective.
"I took on (cold cases) in the last couple of years," Prioletta said. "I haven't been able to devote a lot of time to them. I fit it in on my own."
Prioletta, who has been a detective since 1995, said he has always enjoyed looking into cold cases.
"It's nice to try and get closure on some of these case," he said. "There's still loved ones out there. We want to solve every homicide case."
With the advances in technology, the department has made serious headway in some of the old cases, Prioletta said. While there haven't been any arrests just yet, he remains optimistic.
"There's always hope for solvability on all of them," he said.
Police have solved a majority of the homicide cases from the past five years, and their overall percentage of clearance for murders going back to the 1970s is pretty good, Howell said. But they are not satisfied.
With the advances in DNA in the past five years, coupled with the investigators' passion and the idea that a fresh set of eyes on an old case can be a good thing, Howell said they were prompted to take on actively pursuing the cold cases.
"We define cold cases as investigations where all investigative leads were previously pursued, resulting in the case being classified as
dormant," Howell said.
In addition to re-evaluating all the old cases and assigning Prioletta to work on them, the department also plans to apply for a federal grant through the National Institute of Justice. The $150,000 police are seeking would be used to fund overtime for officers working the cases and pay for software that could assist them in their pursuits.
The software, according to Sgt. Bernie Kupper, would cross-reference the details of unsolved cases and look for patterns. For example, he said, there might be three different murders on a particular street, but they happened several years apart and were handled by different investigators. Detectives might not notice if all three cases had a witness in common.
The software could make that match for them.
Howell said the city's finance committee has to review and approve the grant application this week.
Police also plan to put the photos and information regarding their top 10 cold cases on cards, similar to baseball cards, that can be handed out on the street and in correctional facilities.
Howell said the department hopes that using all of these approaches, police will be able to solve their cold cases and bring closure to the victims' families.