Why some homicide investigations go cold: a study exploring the experiences of the investigative process by UK detectives

Kirsty Bennett, Jason Roach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose
The purpose of this study is to explore the review mechanisms’ efficacy from the perspective of cold case reviewers. Live homicide review mechanisms at the 7- and 28-day stage of an inquiry seek to prevent the case becoming cold (or unsolved) by ensuring lines of inquiry have been suitably identified and progressed. There is also a requirement to ensure the investigation was not swayed by faulty decision-making or cognitive biases. However, the use of the review processes in preventing unsolved cases is unclear, and not subject to much academic discussion.

Design/methodology/approach
This exploratory study explores the review functions through the lens of cold case detectives, currently reviewing unsolved cases to identify progression opportunities. The study uses data from a seven-month, non-participatory observation period with a two-force collaborative cold case unit and 13 semi-structured interviews with cold case review officers. The observations and interviews were simultaneously analysed adhering to an inductive approach to Thematic Analysis.

Findings
The results show procedural guides (e.g. the Major Crime Investigation Manual) are important quality assurance mechanisms for review officers, helping ensure the appropriate and necessary lines of inquiry have been pursued. However, they were keen to emphasise the importance of intuition in progressing cases but felt continuously hindered by a lack of resources and large numbers of applicable cases. To the best of the authors’ knowledge this study is the first exploration of cold case detective’s experiences of the live review processes and how they may pose challenges in case progression for cognitive errors and biases. While the study has identified some challenges facing review officers in nine police forces across the UK, wider examination of policies, practices and mechanisms should be explored to develop the current procedural guidance (e.g. NPCC, 2021).

Originality/value
To the best of the authors’ knowledge this exploratory study is the first exploration of cold case detective’s experiences of the live review processes and how they may pose challenges in case progression for cognitive errors and biases. While the study has identified some challenges facing review officers in nine police forces across the UK, wider examination of policies, practices and mechanisms should be explored to develop the current procedural guidance (e.g. NPCC, 2021).
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jul 2024

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Why some homicide investigations go cold: a study exploring the experiences of the investigative process by UK detectives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this