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A review and recommendations for the integration of forensic expertise within police cold case reviews

Brendan Chapman (Department of Medical, Molecular and Forensic Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia)
David Keatley (Researchers in Behaviour Sequence Analysis (ReBSA), Nottingham, UK and School of Law, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia)
Giles Oatley (Researchers in Behaviour Sequence Analysis (ReBSA), Perth, Australia)
John Coumbaros (School of Science, Engineering and Information Technology, Federation University Australia, Ballarat, Australia)
Garth Maker (Forensic Science Laboratory, ChemCentre, Bentley, Australia)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 3 January 2020

Issue publication date: 5 May 2020




Cold case review teams and the processes that they adopt in their endeavour to solve historic crimes are varied and largely underreported. Of the limited literature surrounding the topic of cold case reviews, the focus is on clearance rates and the selection of cases for review. While multiple reports and reviews have been undertaken and recommend that the interface between investigators and forensic scientists be improved, there is little evidence of cold case teams comprised of a mixture of investigators and scientists or experts. With the growing reliance on forensic science as an aide to solvability, the authors propose that the inclusion of forensic scientists to the central cold case investigation may be a critical factor in future success. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


To support the proposed approach, the authors conducted a review of the current literature seeking insight into the reported make-up of cold case teams. In conjunction with this, the authors reviewed a number of commissioned reports intended to improve cold case reviews and forensic services.


While many of the reviewed reports and recommendations suggested better integration with scientists and external expertise, little evidence of this in practice was reported within published literature. Open dialogue and cross pollination between police investigators and forensic scientists are likely to mitigate biases, inform case file triage and better equip investigations with contemporary and cutting-edge scientific solutions to the evidence analysis for cold cases. Furthermore, with respect to scientists within academia, large pools of resources by way of student interns or researchers may be available to assist resource-sparse policing jurisdictions.


To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first peer-reviewed recommendation for the consideration of integrated forensic scientists within a cold case review team. Multiple reports suggest the need for closer ties, but it is the anecdotal experience of the authors that the benefits of a blended task force approach may yield greater success.



Chapman, B., Keatley, D., Oatley, G., Coumbaros, J. and Maker, G. (2020), "A review and recommendations for the integration of forensic expertise within police cold case reviews", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 79-91.



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