COLUMBIA, Mo. - A new detective position at the Columbia Police Department will focus on aging, unsolved homicide cases.
ABC 17 News has highlighted the growing number of cases that have gone unsolved since 2016. A records request showed that from 1997 to 2016, the city had three cases without an arrest. Today, the city stands at nine open cases.
Lt. Paul Dickinson, head of the city's Criminal Investigations Division, said that the department will soon add a sworn detective position to the ranks of its robbery/homicide section. The new position, which will most likely be a veteran detective, will primarily work on homicide cases more than a year old.
"It's something, historically, we haven't done a good job at," Dickinson told ABC 17 News. "It's something we decided we needed to rectify, and we have to add the personnel to allow us to do that. Because that certainly is a paperwork-intensive job of going through the files, and seeing what the leads were [and] could be re-looked at."
The department's oldest homicide case without an arrest is the 2009 death of Mark Dailey. Another case dates back to Dec. 2011, when police found Timothy Jones dead alongside a trail. In 2014, Rickie Dunn, Jr. was shot on Illinois Avenue.
The cases pick up in 2016, with the shootings of Gabrielle Rhodes and Ricky Randolph, Jr. remaining unsolved. This year, police have made no arrests in three cases that led to four killings - Michael Walker Jr. and Jeffrey Jones in March, Cameron Caruthers in May and Jamar Hicks in June.
Dickinson said the department has identified a common thread in the 2017 killings.
“It's not a secret that the unsolved homicides from this year, the nexus is drugs and gangs," Dickinson said. "That's the nexus we're working on, it's pretty obvious to us that that's what these homicides are related to.”
At least two deaths this year are still under investigation as to the cause of them. Police said they have not yet classified the deaths of Damian Davis and Richard Gray as homicides, despite making arrests in both situations for people allegedly tampering with evidence at the scenes.
While CPD has long discussed its officer shortage, the numbers are apparent in CID. The division currently employs 12 sworn officers. Departments in the Benchmark Cities program, which measures police data from 26 other similarly-sized cities to Columbia, carry an average of 30 sworn detectives.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget allows for four more sworn officers, and two of them will go to the CID. Dickinson said one will go toward the child sex crimes unit, bringing it to three, and the new robbery/homicide detective will bring the unit to four.
Fourth Ward city councilman Ian Thomas said the detective shortage concerned him.
"It continues to be my hope that the City/CPD, in partnership with the community, will adopt "community-oriented policing" as our public safety philosophy and then reach consensus on suitable staffing levels and to fund it," Thomas told ABC 17 News.
The detectives of the CID "triage" cases for CPD, Dickinson said. If patrol officers are unable to quickly solve a case they are called to, a sergeant hands off the case to a detective for further investigation. If a case has high "solvability factors," such as a witness or forensic evidence, a detective will add this to their caseload. Officers will contact victims if a case has a low solvability rate, and encourage them to get in touch with the department if they learn more information.
Solvability factors are "thrown out," Dickinson said, in crimes against people, such as homicides or sex crimes, and are given to the CID at once.
Detectives at CPD have an average caseload of 36 cases per detective. Dickinson said the detectives in the child sex crimes unit carry more than 70 cases apiece.
The manpower issue makes it harder for detectives to dig back into cases in which leads, or tips, have stopped coming in regularly, Dickinson said. But the workforce alone doesn't make a case. The department relies on leads to help keep a tough case moving.
"You need the data to crunch, the information to go through, to sift through, to make the arrest to make the case," Dickinson said. "And just because you have five detectives working a case doesn't increase the amount of information coming in for that case.”
The department has credited the Community Outreach Unit for their work in making the public more comfortable in reporting crime and leads when they see it.
“And there's people out there, in the community, who are making the conscious decision not to bring forward the information," Dickinson said.