MONTPELIER — Vermont police are supporting a bill in the Legislature that would establish a force dedicated to cold cases to restart old investigations and potentially give families of victims of unsolved murders some answers.
Maj. Glenn Hall, the commander of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, on Wednesday described for lawmakers what cold case families go through.
“They wake up every day wondering what happened. They go to sleep every night wondering what happened,” Hall said. “And that’s the truth, they live that. It’s really nothing you can really imagine unless you’ve been through it or if you have somebody that’s close to you that’s been through that.”
The bill’s sponsor, Berlin Republican Rep. Patti Lewis, said her motivation is to help such families obtain closure.
“If it was my daughter, I would want to know,” Lewis said.
Unsolved homicides are an important issue for the state, according to Hall.
Vermont has at least 57 unsolved homicides and more than 30 inactive missing person cases dating to 1946, according to police data. Hall said the bulk of those cases are from the 1970s and 1980s.
An investigator dedicated to cold cases could devote energy to readdressing inactive cases without also juggling the demands of new cases, Hall said.
In cold cases, evidence is not always in centralized computer files and witnesses can be difficult to track down, according to Hall. But the advantage of revisiting inactive cases is the possibility of analyzing old evidence with the new DNA and forensic science of the 21st century.
But technology can’t make up for how much needs to be done.
“I joke about watching ‘CSI’ and these shows on TV where they solve these cases in about 30 minutes,” Hall said. “And it’s really very time-intensive and just a lot of work that needs to be done.”
A cost for the position has not yet been determined, according to Hall and Lewis. Lewis said it would at least be the cost of an additional salary for the state police.
In New Hampshire, a larger cold case unit established in 2009 with three detectives and one prosecutor cost about $600,000 in federal funds over a two-year period, according to 2013 numbers from the state’s departments of justice and safety.
Maine lawmakers are looking at a proposal to create a four-person unit at a cost of $530,000 in its first year and $430,000 in subsequent years.
Vermont’s proposal includes one position.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on this,” Hall said to lawmakers. “If we solve one of these, it’s worth its weight in gold.”
Lewis said the proposal is gaining traction and if it passes the House Committee on Government Operations, the next stop would be Appropriations.
Adding new positions is always difficult, Hall said.
“I can’t imagine anyone opposing the concept of creating this. It’s just a matter of do we have the funding and the resources right now to do that,” Hall said. “I think, at the very least, it’s worth initiating the conversation.”
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