Closing cold cases

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

FOR STEPHEN Williams, solving the murder of Rachel Ramkissoon, 16, was a top priority.

At a media conference in January 2017, the acting police commissioner said “extensive resources” were allocated. Progress had been made. The murder would be solved in short order.

Mr William’s time as acting commissioner came and went. Ms Ramkissoon’s murder remains unsolved. After four years, her family still seeks answers.

“A young, bright life was snatched and up to this day no one can say anything,” said Ms Ramkissoon’s grandmother Kamla on Sunday, the anniversary of Ms Ramkissoon’s disappearance. “My family wants closure.”

For the first time in eight years, the murder toll fell below 400 last year. “Serious crime” also dropped by 30 per cent. Whatever the factors that contributed to this – police say it is because of their work, while observers ponder the pandemic’s impact – it is statistically significant.

However, Ms Ramkissoon’s case is a reminder of why we should not hold up the murder rate as the be-all and end-all of gauging the effectiveness of crime-fighting.

While it is generally accepted that even one murder is one too many, it is sometimes easy to overlook the relationship between deterrence and swift justice.

Failure to solve and successfully prosecute cases on the basis of evidence that can withstand scrutiny in a court of law is as much of an indictment on the system as a high crime rate.

Back in 2018, the lead investigator in Ms Ramkissoon’s case was, a full year after her killing, optimistic about making a breakthrough. “I have very high hopes of solving this murder,” said Sgt Anil Maharaj of the Homicide Investigations Bureau.

In what has become a common formulation, he said the case was neither cold nor closed. It was one of 193 murder files on his desk that he would examine from time to time to see what clues he may have missed.

One case is complex enough, but having officers, no matter how competent, managing hundreds of cases simultaneously is a distressing indication of the strains on police resources.

The stresses are likely to increase. Personnel expenditure for the Police Service is down by $85 million in the current budget (the overall expenditure allocation dropped by $80 million to $2.1 billion).

The increased use of intelligence-driven policing, improvements to forensic capabilities and better management of DNA resources mean little if law enforcement officers are overburdened and, worse, lack access to skills and training.

Such officers are left to throw their hands up while “suspects,” sometimes held amid public outrage over a killing, languish in jail on the strength of untested evidence for years.

The murder rate is down; but there is more to do before we celebrate.

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