Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $535,000)
Riverside County, California, has a rapidly growing population of over 2.4 million residents and is the 4th largest county by population in California. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation actively seeks a shared responsibility with its law enforcement partners to ensure the most effective use of resources and to identify and apply new methods and technology for increased prosecutorial efficiency.
In 2006, the Office formed a Cold Case Prosecution Team (CCPT) to enhance the prosecution of violent cold cases countywide. Currently, CCPT continues to aggressively pursue the prosecution of unsolved violent crime using DNA, specifically sexual assaults and homicides.
Today, advancements in DNA technology have enabled law enforcement to reopen investigations left dormant for years. DNA profiles from those convicted and those arrested for crimes are uploaded to a database called the Offender Database. DNA evidence collected from a crime scene is uploaded to a database called the Forensic Unknown Database. These databases are collectively known as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The Office is acutely aware of the importance of prosecuting violent cold case crimes, through first-hand experience. Since its inception in 2000, California’s DNA Cold Hit Program has resulted in more than 300 cold hits in Riverside County, including 36 in 2019. These CODIS hits continue to grow each year.
Current statistics show in excess of 1,100 unsolved cases exist countywide, with 430 Forensic Unknowns in CODIS from January 1970 to current. In April 2020, CCPT expanded to form the Regional Cold Case Hit/Homicide Team (RCCHT). RCCHT has brought a countywide effort towards identifying and prosecuting cold cases where suspect DNA is present. By working in collaboration with full/part time investigators from partner agencies, RCCHT will enhance the prosecution of cold cases countywide. RCCHT anticipates 26% of the Forensic Unknowns countywide will require additional investigation. This will target approximately 68 violent crime cold cases.
This grant will enable RCCHT to effectively prioritized cases with suspect DNA, submit DNA for timely analysis, and successfully investigate and prosecute the case. The funding will increase the team’s investigative capacity by bringing new forensic techniques to the forefront (e.g. Forensic Genetic Genealogy). Certified private lab testing is necessary as the California’s Department of Justice (CA-DOJ) laboratory is inundated with DNA submissions causing upwards of a year delay before results are available, where private labs will ensure a thirty-day turnaround. This is paramount for the timely prosecution of cold cases.