Innovative Work in a Murder Case Recognized with Award

When detectives from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail responded to a crime scene with the bodies of two adults and two children buried in shallow graves in Victorville, Calif. in November 2013, they were about to solve a missing persons case that had captivated the sheriff’s department – and national attention – for more than three years. By employing a variety of novel investigative techniques, the sheriff’s department was not only able to identify the victims, but also apprehend a suspect.

For their efforts, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail has been recognized with the 2015 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)/Thomson Reuters Award for Excellence in Criminal Investigation.

 
In February 2010, the McStay family was reported missing by family members, and while the disappearance was suspicious, the initial investigation turned-up very few leads. When surveillance cameras near the McStay’s home captured footage of a vehicle similar to the family car leaving their neighborhood – which was also later found abandoned near the U.S./Mexico border – many believed the family had fled to Mexico. It wasn’t until human remains were found by a motorcyclist nearly three years later that law enforcement had a definitive break in the case.
 
After detailed analysis of the McStay’s online bookkeeping accounts, detectives were able to focus their attention on a suspect. Forensic video enhancement techniques also found that the surveillance footage believed to be of the McStay family vehicle leaving the neighborhood around the time of their disappearance was in fact a different vehicle that matched the description of one owned by the suspect. Further location-based analysis and calling records of the suspect’s cell phone also placed him in the area where the bodies were found around the time of the disappearance. Armed with this evidence, the suspect was apprehended and is now awaiting trial.
 
“On behalf of the IACP, we are proud to recognize the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail for their outstanding investigatory techniques,” said IACP president, Chief Richard Beary (University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.). “The resourceful and innovative police work demonstrated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail shows their dedication to bringing this case to a close, ensuring that justice is served, and restoring a sense of safety in the community.”
 
The first runner-up is the Phoenix Police Department Cold Case Homicide team. Faced with limited resources, the Cold Case Homicide team took a new approach to their work: organizing the infrastructure of their files, photos and evidence system; devising a review and rating system for cases; initiating a collective brainstorming process and enabling partnerships with outside agencies and organizations to solve cases. This methodical approach led the team to solve more than 55 cold cases over the last six years, including the arrest of a notorious serial killer that had targeted and murdered two young women in the early 1990s.
 
The second runner-up, the New Jersey State Police Forensic Investigations Bureau, is being recognized for its effort to enact the Gun Crime Processing protocol, which seeks to collect valuable forensic evidence from firearms used in the commission of a crime by treating them as potential murder weapons. When the program launched in January 2015, key breakthroughs were made in two investigations, including the case of a young child who was killed by a stray bullet while she was playing in her home. When a discarded handgun was located in Irvington, N.J., the weapon was subjected to the Gun Crime Processing protocol and was later found to not only have been involved in the death of the child, but forensic evidence lifted from the gun has led investigators to identify several suspects.
 
“When my team and I review these submissions every year, we are inspired by the stories of law enforcement and their commitment to making our society safer, whether it’s protecting the innocent or bringing criminals to justice,” said Dan DeSimone, senior director of Investigative Resources for Thomson Reuters. “On behalf of Thomson Reuters and the IACP, I am pleased to recognize the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail, Phoenix Police Department Cold Case Homicide team, New Jersey State Police Forensic Investigations Bureau and law enforcement from around the country who serve and protect us every day.”
 
The IACP/Thomson Reuters Award for Excellence in Criminal Investigation is given to a law enforcement agency, law enforcement unit, task force or inter-agency task force in recognition of exceptional innovation and excellence in the area of criminal investigations. Judging focuses on contributions to the advancement of the art or science of criminal investigations and innovations in the development or enhancement of investigative techniques. The award is sponsored by the Fraud Prevention & Investigations business of Thomson Reuters. Learn more at www.theiacp.org.
 
 
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