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Approaching Backlog Cases: A How-To Guide

Planning & conducting investigations & survivor notifications should be viewed as parallel tracks with the same end goals:

 

Solving cold case sexual assaults & bringing justice to survivors.

This page contains the guidelines for conducting investigations and notifications. Download a PDF of the full "Approaching Backlog Cases: A How-To Guide".

The KSP Forensic Laboratory has notified you that they have initiated testing on SAFE kits your agency submitted.
What Should You Do Now?

1. For chiefs/command: Prepare for an additional workload of cold cases. Estimate time and resources needed to review cold cases, develop spreadsheet, and re-open cases for investigation. Many cold cases have minimal evidence, so time will need to be spent locating victims, re-interviewing victims (after notification) and witnesses, and developing new investigative leads.

 

2. Assign cases to investigators. Resources permitting, consider putting fresh eyes on the case.

3. Compile and review all existing evidence, and begin researching the survivor’s whereabouts.

4. Schedule a planning meeting with advocates and prosecutor to coordinate activities, streamline communication, and ensure support is in place for survivors.

  • Provide an overview of the cases that are pending test results

  • Determine what resources you need

    • The Attorney General’s Office can offer support in areas such as locating victims, and sharing best practices on cold case investigations and prosecutions Add contact info here

  • Outline roles and responsibilities for the team. Review this infographic to understand how community advocates can help with notifications.

 

5. Create a spreadsheet with information on individual cases so that you can track and report progress to the KSP lab, per requirements of the DANY grant. See an example of the fields to include:

6. Plan survivor notifications. For example, print new business cards for investigators and law enforcement advocates that do not identify them as being part of special victims or sex crimes unit.

LMPD printed new business cards out of concern that information identifying investigators and advocates as being part of the Special Victims Unit could cause problems for survivors with partners or family members who may not be aware of the assault.

1. Review lab results to determine whether a suspect has been identified.

 

 

 

REMEMBER: ALL survivors shall be notified of the results of the backlog kit analysis, regardless of results. Work with your team to determine notification logistics.

2. Locate the survivor.

 

  • If access to investigatory databases is limited, the Attorney General’s Office, Kentucky State Police, and Department of Homeland Security may be able to assist.

  • Transient/homeless victims may be hard to track down, so consider the prospect of having to search homeless shelters near the last known address. Also consider setting up a meeting with the homeless advocates in the community to explain this notification process, as Louisville Metro Police investigators have done.

  • If no phone numbers or addresses can be located, search for the survivor on social media. If located, contact via private, generic message asking only that they contact you.

  • When these options fail, try to identify parents, witnesses or associates.

  • Send an email to patrol officers alerting them that you are looking for this person for a project, specifying that they are NOT suspects and cannot be held.

The KSP Forensic Laboratory has notified you of the SAFE kit results​.
What Should You Do Now?
Notification Planning: Who, How, When, Where

1. Decide how to make initial contact with the survivor.

 

  • Best practices suggest a phone call to set up an in-person meeting with an investigator and community advocate at a safe, neutral location. Be prepared that the victim may want to meet immediately, so allot several hours for these calls.

  • An in-person visit without an initial call should be made with consideration of the survivor's safety and privacy (see safety planning section).

  • Sending letters is not considered a best practice and should be avoided.

2. Decide who should make the first contact.

  • Best practices suggest an investigator/advocate team up, but the Task Force acknowledges there are scenarios under which law enforcement may defer to community advocates to conduct the notification alone. Due to confidentiality laws, these situations would prohibit the advocates from reporting back to law enforcement any information gleaned from the survivors without the survivors' consent. KASAP has developed a consent form for community advocates to give to survivors to consent to sharing certain information with law enforcement.

  • If law enforcement has an in-house advocate, he or she should make the phone call.

3. Decide when to make the first contact.

 

  • With known serial offenders, discuss with prosecution first and make sure all jurisdictions have communicated.

  • For victims with multiple kits, consider whether it would be wise to postpone notification until results are known for all kits.

4. Decide where to have the recommended in-person meeting.

 

  • If survivor agrees to a meeting during the initial contact, have a list of possible meeting locations, such as a conference room at the police department or rape crisis center or other community facility that would provide adequate privacy.

  • Give survivor a choice; however, be aware that some community advocates have policies prohibiting advocates from visiting a survivor's residence.

  • Interrogation rooms should not be used.

5. Determine and gather what information the survivor may request.

 

  • Have this information when making initial contact because the survivor may decline an in-person meeting and/or want to know the results and other pertinent information immediately.

  • Key information includes:

  • General idea of suspect whereabouts – whether they are incarcerated is on the hit letter. Conduct a Court Net search. Some location tools can’t be used until law enforcement is ready to write a search warrant.

  • Other crimes suspect has committed

  • Whether the survivor is safe from the suspect

  • Whether the cold case is being opened and prosecution pursued

  • Next steps

  • Possible outcomes

6. Gather appropriate resources to offer the survivor.

Survivor Resources

 

  • Contact information for investigator and advocates

  • List of community services available (community advocates may have existing brochure)

  • Information on testifying, if relevant

Making Contact with Survivors

Call first, if possible

  • Allow ample time for a lengthy call or a request to meet immediately. Consider setting aside “notification days” or half days.

  • Treat them with kindness, compassion and empathy.

  • Be prepared to give them results and answer other questions immediately, if requested.

Unannounced visit: Plan B

  • If you have to make a cold visit to an address rather than an initial phone call, be clear with the person who answers the door that the person you are looking for is not in trouble with the law. Try to engage that person for help locating the survivor if he/she is not there, without giving the person who answers the door any details.

  • Use social media if the victim cannot be reached via phone or in-person visit. Send a private message that asks the victim to contact the police department to discuss an important matter.

  • Ask the local police department or sheriff’s office for help if the victim doesn’t live locally.​

    • Ask if that department can help you come up with any additional information on the victim, like an address or rent rolls. 

    • If you plan to send an investigator with the local department to make contact in person, ask if they can send an in-house advocate along, or even a community advocate.

  • If a victim has a known legal guardian due to disabilities, notify the guardians of the results.

If it is a domestic violence situation and the survivor may still be living with the perpetrator, plan for safety and do not reveal the purpose of the call. Consider identifying yourself only as someone with the police department or sheriff’s office (rather than identifying as a sex crimes investigator), and ask for that person to have the survivor call.

What to Say: A Checklist

  • Identify yourself

  • Ask if it is a good time to talk

  • Ask if they recall making a police report

  • The apology -- state it something along the lines of, "I know that you made a sexual assault report to police in XXXX. I am very sorry that happened to you, and I am sorry it took so long to get results from your kit." An acknowledgement that things did not happen in a timely manner can rebuild trust.

 

  • Explain that this is part of a broader effort to test 3,000 kits that previously went untested. You can say the goal is to bring justice to victims and catch perpetrators.

 

  • Tell the victim they can bring someone for support to the in-person meeting

  • Tell the victim there is a team working on their case

  • Ask the victim if it would be OK if someone from the rape crisis center contacted them

  • Ask the victim, "What are your biggest fears going forward?"

  • Let them know further involvement and contact is their choice

Meet with the survivor in person

  • This should NOT be an interview of the victim. The goal of notification is to establish contact and rebuild trust.​​​

    • ​​You can request that they set up a time to do an interview and look at a police lineup, but trying to do an interview and notification simultaneously could harm both the victim and investigation.

  • Allow them to take a break during the process.​

    • Be flexible and patient, offer breaks, and be prepared for a variety of reactions. They may be hostile, ambivalent, or thankful. Check your ego and don’t make it personal.​ Emphasize their choice.

  • Do not touch survivors without permission.​

  • If prosecution is possible, law enforcement or the advocate should give the victim the name of the person from the prosecutor’s office who will be contacting them.

  • Observe the victim to identify and offer specific services.

    • For example, if a victim remarks about difficulty finding child care, that’s a possible referral.​

  • Be clear about the next steps.​

    • Give them law enforcement, advocate, and, if relevant, prosecutor contact names and numbers and invite them to contact you with questions or concerns.

    • Be clear about how and when you plan to follow up. They may think of questions or information about the case later but are hesitant to bother you.

    • Help them understand what the next steps may be in terms of investigation and prosecution.

    • Ask if they have any questions.

    • Ask survivor for permission to make contact in a couple days to check in.

Follow up with victims

  • Contact them when you told them you would.

  • Ask if they need any additional services.

  • Don’t interpret victims not reaching out to a lack of desire to participate in an investigation/prosecution.

    • This is where advocates can play a role – if they keep checking in with victims and the victim engages with them, the door is still open.

  • Report notification outcome to the KSP Lab.

    • Per DANY grant requirements, use the form provided by the Lab to report that notification occurred, or that victim could not be located.

    • If the regional rape crisis center conducted the notification without law enforcement, the Lab is aware that confidentiality laws prohibit the RCC from giving information to law enforcement. Just let the Lab know that the RCC is taking the lead on a particular notification.

Possible Results

Identified DNA sample

DNA profile generated, matched to offender

Unidentified DNA sample with match to other victims

 

DNA profile generated, matched to other victim(s) with unknown perpetrator

Unidentified DNA sample

 

DNA profile generated but no immediate match in databases

No DNA found

Analysis finds no foreign DNA in biological evidence submitted