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Ethical practices for researching cold cases

In 1965, the murder clearance rate was 91%. Since then, it has dropped to 62% as of 2017. These are not just statistics, they are people; people who have families and loved ones for whom the case has never been cold.


A study released by the National Institute of Justice states that:


“... approximately four out of 10 homicides are not solved; four out of 10 murderers do not receive justice and remain free to continue to commit crimes; and four out of 10 homicide victims do not receive any sort of resolution, adding to the ever-growing number of cold cases.”


With forty percent of homicides unsolved, the likelihood that cases will find a resolution as time progresses diminishes, however, that doesn’t mean that all hope should be lost. And these stats should not replace the lives that are lost. Families deserve answers, victims deserve a voice, and no one should be a statistic.


First, do no harm

Think about and organize your research in a manner that increases the positive effect and decreases the possible negative impact on the families or potential subjects involved in the case—first, do no harm. The aim is NOT to cause more danger or damage to loved ones or impede progress, but to uncover details that might have gone unnoticed.

Citizen Detectives flourish at the intersection of time, interest and motivation. Let these factors guide your research practices, but never forget that the stories you are consuming, the facts you are uncovering, or the threads you are connecting belong to people and will resolve in some sort of outcome. Let it be ethical and positive and lead to the next connection for a fellow Citizen Detective. Collective impact will move progress further.


Remember the basic rule

Actions + Behaviors = Consequences

Finding accurate information in a safe and thoughtful way on cold cases is the first step in online sleuthing. We've compiled an Citizen Detective guide to help you sharpen your skills, download it today to build your digital toolkit and moving up in the detective ranks.

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