9 November 2018 • Guy Westerbos
Can you use students to solve cold cases?
The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security has asked The Hague University of Applied Sciences to contribute with ideas for various issues facing the National Police Force. A group of Applied Safety & Security Studies students is therefore looking for innovative ways to solve cold cases. All students at THUAS can help by completing a questionnaire.
The group of students is focused on cold cases. These are cases such as murder, manslaughter, arson, rape and violent robberies to which there is a minimum 12-year prison sentence attached. In the Netherlands there are over 1,500 unsolved cold cases. Of which, 1,000 cases regard homicides. There has been no statute of limitations for homicides since 1988 and for serious offences since 1993. New techniques within the police force mean that after 20 years there is the potential for progress to be made in cases such as that of Nicky Verstappen (unsolved child murder).
Cold case files
During the project, the group of students discovered that the cold case teams often still work with paper files, which, for instance, makes it difficult to anticipate new techniques because information from cases is not always easily traceable. The group of students responded to this and issued a questionnaire to find out the level of support among students to work on digitising the paper cold case files and how police can use students with the digitisation of these paper files.
The intention is that there will eventually be a national digital database which includes all paper files of the police’s various cold case teams. The students can contribute to digitisation at the police force, for example, by scanning, sorting and then coding the files. Coding the information can contribute to the following step, namely ‘teaching’ computer systems to process information. Machine learning can accelerate the police’s ability to find connections between cases or to make information easier to find, which will help when investigating cold cases.
Through the questionnaire, the group of students wants to find out the level of support among students and how police can use students with the digitisation of cold cases, but they also want to put cold cases in the spotlight. Police research shows that there are roughly 800 people walking around in the Netherlands who know more about certain cases. Through this questionnaire the group of students hopes to give a modest, but not to be underestimated, stimulus to bringing cold cases under the attention of society. If through the survey the group of students is able to reach even one person in the circles of those 800 people, then that would be fantastic.
If you are interested in contributing to the research by the group of students, then please complete the questionnaire. It will take about 5 minutes of your time. The results will be presented on 20 November at the Justice & Security Innovation Congress , WTC Rotterdam.