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A series examining nearly 100 unsolved murders in the region

State, nation need to share murder data

     During the past month, the Daily Times-Call has published the results of a year-long analysis of almost 100 unsolved homicides in Boulder, Larimer, Weld and Adams counties.  Some of these murders date back to the early 1900s, but many occurred in the closing decades of the last century some almost up to the present day.

     These unsolved murders have left psychological scars upon surviving family members, friends and the people of Northern Colorado.

     What can be done?

     Today, the Daily Times-Call is renewing its recommendation  for an enhanced Colorado and national computer database to assist law enforcement agencies in tracking homicides, suspects and related information.

    Without these important tools, the pursuit of justice will continue to be at a disadvantage as officials try to track suspects, witnesses and others in this highly mobile society across city, county, state and sometimes international boundaries.

    Members of the Colorado law enforcement team should have the tools necessary to work together much more closely to address the horrendous problem of unsolved homicides.

    Encouragingly, homicide rates are down in Colorado and across the nation.  But frighteningly, clearance rates are dropping.

    According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, murder rates began falling in the late 1990s.  In 1998, there were a reported 6.3 homicides per 100,000 people the lowest level since 1967, when 6.2 homicides per 100,000 people were reported.  But well more than one-third of homicides nationwide are unsolved.

   In the year 2000, about 80 homicides in Colorado were unsolved.

   Law enforcement is not without computer assistance now.  Such networks as the National Crime Information Center, the Colorado Crime Information Center, the Rocky Mountain Information Network and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program are all helpful.  But interviews with veteran Northern Colorado police and prosecutors, including highly respected District Attorney Stu VanMeveren of Fort Collins, describe an overall weak system of tracking and investigation that can and must be improved for the public's safety.

   "Right now, we often have a hit-and-miss situation," VanMeveren said.

    As time passes, investigations can grow more difficult. But we must not give up the pursuit of justice.

    To make the necessary improvements happen soon, Colorado officials including Gov. Bill Owens, Attorney General Ken Salazar,  the General Assembly and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation must work together to glean ideas from around the nation and fashion a workable and improved Colorado plan.  In addition to a homicide-specific database, some other jurisdictions are successfully using Web  pages to enlist the assistance of the public in solving major crimes. Colorado should do this same.

   The states of North Carolina and Georgia, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department in Florida, and the government of Monmouth County, N.J., should be consulted.

  To accomplish these recommended technological improvements, it will take leadership and dedication in addressing concerns that have been raised.  Concerns include increased staffing costs and protection of constitutional rights of suspects. Law enforcement at all levels of government will be challenged to work together more closely than ever before to turn these ideas into reality and to maintain and improve the system. Clear guidelines for the proper use of this proposed database must be established and maintained by an active and accountable governing board of law enforcement and other public officials.

  The concerns can be addressed successfully. The most important roles of government are the protection and safety of all citizens, the vigorous pursuit of criminals, and the search for justice no matter how long it takes.  As we properly safeguard the constitutional rights of suspects, let us always remember, too, the need  to keep fighting for the rights of the victims' families, friends and co-workers, and all the people of Colorado.