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Forensic Science students take the lead in Cold Case evaluation research

This semester, an enthusiastic group of Forensic Research students at Saxion University of Applied Sciences has made a start with the minor “Cold Case”. During this minor, the students work together with the police to revitalize Cold Cases.

20/03/2019

‘Cold Cases’ are unresolved police cases, in this context cases concerning murder and manslaughter in particular. The crimes took place years ago, but little to no attention is paid to them anymore due to of a lack of evidence. This makes for a terrible and difficult situation for the victim’s relatives. To guarantee the quality of the research, the group uses the No Code software Icologiq Universe. Icologiq Universe is one of the first system that makes it possible to program without the need for coding. The No-Code technology enables the researchers to make the research process a lot faster and more effective.

Police Investigations from a Journalistic Point of View

“Four years ago I started the so-called ‘Cold Case research project’,” says Jaap Knotter, lecturer in Advanced Forensic Technology, who supervises the students during the minor. “The aim of this project is to find out to what extent it is possible for people outside of the police department to help with this type of investigation. Outside of the police department, we have to use a different type of data, because we don’t have access to internal police information. Instead, we are working according to the journalistic approach by focusing on open sources, for example old historical archives such as LexisNexis.”

This way, the Cold Case project not only provides an interesting challenge for students to put the knowledge of their education into practice, but it comes in handy for the police as well. “One condition for the police to re-open a Cold Case is the proof of new investigative insights. The use of open source information is not applied to every cold case study, because it takes up a lot of time and space.”

“The use of new technologies like Universe makes it possible to collect the same crucial information from open sources in less time.”

How can the use of new technologies like Icologiq Universe contribute to the investigation of the cases? “The importance of a new system like Universe lays in the fact that you have to control the entire process, especially when dealing with several things at the same time,” says Jaap. “You have to continuously control the entire research process and monitor the quality. A system like Universe offers the possibility for the user to design it according to their own insight. With this project, we want to create a Universe process tool that can be used specifically for Cold Case research in the future. This enables researches to guarantee the quality of such research. “

New Possibilities because of Icologiq Universe

Jaap is very satisfied with the professional attitude of the students: starting from the kick-off the group is visibly committed to the project. Moreover, the students Savannah Schultz and Sten Bellers, responsible for designing and managing the application, already have a few ideas on how to approach the investigation and the role Universe can play in this.

“The project consists of different phases,” Sten explains. “We start with the investigative phase, during which we collect as much information as possible about the victim and the situation, varying from what time he went to work to where he walked the dog. We try to make connections between certain events and people by creating a timeline. Then, we examine the supporting documents in groups of two to three students in order to get step by step closer to a conclusion. Yesterday we were allowed to view the autopsy report for one of the cases. When we found out that the victim died of a head injury, we could exclude that it was an accident.”

“We make use of typologies for the suspectology, aka the identification of potential suspects,” Savannah says. “For the victimology we are working with a low risk – high risk system. Based on the situation, it is possible to determine the likelihood of the victim being known or unknown. A low-risk situation occurs for example when a woman is shot in the head in her own home: there is little chance that an unknown person would do such a thing. But when someone is cycling through a dark alley in the evening and gets killed, it becomes a lot harder to identify the perpetrator. “

This is where Universe comes in handy. “We are using Universe to process all this information,” says Savannah. “With a system of pluses and minuses we can check how likely each scenario is. Throughout the process it is very important for us to constantly reflect on why we are making a certain choice and how we have come to a certain conclusion. We can demonstrate this using the information collected in Universe.”

What is the students’ goal for this minor? “Ultimately, we hope to demonstrate how our research actually got us a step closer to a conclusion. But if we succeed in causing a gigantic breakthrough that could resolve one of the cases, that would of course be even better.”