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L.A. Police Commission Supports Plea for More Cold Case Officers, Lab Staff

April 26, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Alarmed that 46% of homicides and 80% of rapes in Los Angeles have not resulted in prosecutions, the Police Commission approved a request Tuesday to double the size of the Police Department's cold case homicide unit, create a new cold case sexual assault unit and increase the number of crime lab workers.

The panel agreed to seek money for 31 detectives, fingerprint and blood-work specialists and DNA experts in anticipation of getting, on average, one lead a day from a developing statewide criminal database.

"With such resources, the LAPD can effectively remove hundreds of murderers and rapists from our communities, thereby bringing a much greater degree of safety to our citizens," Police Chief William J. Bratton said.

Commissioners, including President John Mack, appeared stunned by the number of homicide and rape cases that are not prosecuted.

"It is mind-boggling that we have that many unsolved murder and rape cases," Mack said.

The cold case homicide unit has seven detectives working on 6,000 unsolved homicide cases that have fingerprint, DNA or ballistics evidence that has not been fully processed through new search systems. Eighty cases are under active investigation, including four involving serial killers with a total of 18 victims, the chief said in a report to the commission.

The commission voted unanimously to ask the mayor and City Council to provide money for nine additional cold case detectives and to add a clerk and a lieutenant.

The panel also supported creation of a new cold case sexual assault unit, to which eight detectives would be assigned. There have been about 20,000 sexual assaults during the last decade, about 4,000 of which have resulted in prosecutions.

The commission also supported Bratton's request for six new fingerprint experts and eight serology criminalists to assist the cold case units.

The total tab for the new workers would come to nearly $3 million and would require approval by the City Council and mayor. Only six of the requested positions are included in the mayor's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

In arguing for the number of latent-print specialists assigned to cold case units to be increased from two to eight, Bratton said the current crew can process 15 cold homicides per month.

"At this rate, it will take over 33 years to complete the processing of the unsolved homicides; if this is allowed, hundreds of perpetrators will escape prosecution," Bratton said in his report.

DNA taken from criminals and put into a statewide database, which was set up when voters approved Proposition 69 in 2004, is expected to generate many more leads in cases.

The LAPD expects to be notified of 200 leads per year in sexual assault cases and about 165 for homicides because of the new technology.

"There will be an overload of DNA cases coming in, and we need to be prepared," Harlan Ward, an LAPD commander, told the commission.

Ward said the proposal for increased staffing has been endorsed by members of the council's Public Safety Committee.

Commissioner Anthony Pacheco said he decided to support the proposal largely because of the number of unresolved homicides and rapes.

"I find that an amazing statistic, and it demonstrates the need for what is proposed here," Pacheco said.

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