St. John Watch by VIPD Commissioner Elton Lewis

Investigation-Solvability Factors

In FY 2005 our homicide rates increased 52 percent over FY 2004. That increase was in part due to the decrease in the likelihood of by-standers and witnesses to provide information, and to the absence of physical evidence.

I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the topic of Investigation and Solvability from a different perspective. The perspective of two actual sample cases that are considered unsolvable under the current circumstances. As examples, let’s look at cases one and two.

Case 43956-1: This is a homicide case. The victim was shot around 9 p.m. in the evening at an intersection on Veterans Highway. A weapon was found on him and he was lying face-down in a pool of blood. He appeared to have received six gun shot wounds and was fully clothed. The make of the weapon was a Beretta PX4 Storm. Six spent casings were seven feet from the right side of his body.

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A patrol unit arrived on scene within 15 minutes of the call followed by both Forensics and members of the Major Crime Squad. The area was processed in accordance with standard operating procedures used by law enforcement agencies.

Processed means the area was secured and all physical evidence or possible evidence was gathered, tagged and recorded. Photos were taken and the area surrounding the victim was searched in detail.

Major Crime Squad immediately canvasses the area for witnesses. This means that the members of the Major Crime Squad will go door to door in a half square mile to gather information. The squad goes back to the area the following day to re-canvas the area for any potential witnesses or physical evidence.

Results of the canvassing and investigation: Most of the people heard the shots. No one saw anything. There was no physical evidence other than spent casings found at the scene. No one saw anything unusual. No unusual people, no unusual vehicle traffic.

Status: Cold until someone comes forward with any information. There is no statute of limitation in homicide cases, meaning that the investigation will remain open indefinitely until witnesses come forward or physical evidence is obtained, that will bring closure to this case.

Case 57654-11: 7:36 p.m. on the East Side. Business and residential area. Victim was found with multiple gunshot wounds. Patrol followed by Forensics and detectives of the Major Crime Squad arrived on scene within 17 minutes of the first call. Caller provided no identification or contact information.

Patrol unit secured the crime scene. Forensic did their job following standard operating procedures as outlined in case I. Major Crime again canvasses area. There is a crowd so there are many people to question. The area canvassed was about an eighth of a mile in three directions.

We discovered the victim left his home around 6 p.m. No evidence of why he left his home at this time. 911’s report indicated that the caller stated there were multiple shots heard. Forensics found 10 shell casings near the body. EMT stated that upon arrival they detected no vital signs.

No one saw anything. People heard the shots but didn’t go to their windows because shots are a common occurrence.

Status: Suspect identified but cannot move forward without witnesses and/or information forthcoming. Suspect continuously under systematic surveillance.

Here are the common threads between all of these homicides: 1. The VIPD responds quickly to these calls; 2. Forensics and detectives of the Major Crime Squad do their job systematically and carefully; 3. All evidence and information gathered is analyzed in accordance with standard operating procedures that are tried and proven; 4. Members of the community who absolutely know information do not come forward; 5. Case goes cold without any potential leads.

In my previous article entitled “Solvability Factors,” criteria that govern solving crimes are known as Solvability Factors. I believe the more you know about policing the more you can understand the frustration and can better help us prevent and solve crimes. I want to repeat some of these factors so we’re all operating from the same page of knowledge.

Solvability Factor is defined as having certain basic facts that are known that can lead investigators on a clear path to resolve the case. Without a distinct degree of lead information, the case or cases have almost no potential of being solved.

My previous article spoke to a 12-point solvability factor created by the Rochester, New York Police Department, which must be present in order for the case to be solved. Having spent at least nine years of my police career as a homicide detective, I agree completely with the 12 points which are as follows:
Witnesses to the crime; knowledge of the suspect’s name; knowledge of where the suspect can be located; description of suspect; identification of suspect; property with traceable, identifiable characteristics, marks or numbers; existence of a significant method of operation; presence of significant physical evidence; description of the suspect’s vehicle; positive results from a crime scene evidence search; belief that crime may be solved with publicity and/or reasonable additional investigative effort, and possibility and/or opportunity for anyone, other than the suspect, to have committed the crime.

Earning and keeping the community’s trust is an ongoing challenge for the Virgin Islands Police Department. The department continues to strive to win this trust so that people will willingly come forward with pertinent information that will help us solve cases.

Without the community’s trust and its assistance, the number of unsolved cases will continue to mount while detectives meticulously gather evidence, which takes a long time.

Members of the community providing information to the crime tip lines need not give their personal information in order to be taken seriously and to be considered.

On behalf of the men and women of the police department, I thank all citizens who have come forward with information, however little, regarding criminal activities.

There is no magical formula and this isn’t CSI. Well, there is one formula that works. Your help. Unsolved crimes are a primary concern of the LAPD, NYPD, Atlanta, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Dade County and every agency throughout the world. All law enforcement agencies need the same thing. Your help.

It is my hope that this article provides a greater insight into the solvability factors and the challenges in criminal investigations. Soon we will be publishing information and photos related to unsolved homicides on our Web site. We are hoping that this type of information will possibly jog memories and/or stimulate people in our community to come forward.

My heart goes out to the loved ones of victims of crime. I can empathize with you because two of my relative’s cases remain unsolved. I have dedicated my life to serving and protecting. I love this job and I want these crimes solved with all the commitment, energy and dedication I possess. The VIPD will continue to do its best to bring closure to these cases wherever possible.