Partnership could help crack cases

Published 10:07 am Monday, January 11, 2016

In spite of dramatizations of police and prosecutors working together to catch the bad guy in TV crime procedurals, the sad fact is that many murders that have occurred in the state of Michigan remain unsolved.

In fact, figures show that, since the 1970s, state law enforcement agencies have more than 11,000 cold homicide cases. With the fewest police officers per capita in the entire Midwest, Michigan has one of the most challenging murder clearance rates in the country, according Mike Wendling, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM).

Thanks to a new partnership between the prosecutors association and Southwestern Michigan College and Ferris State University, there is still a chance that law enforcement may finally be able to close the books on these cold cases.

In an initiative spearheaded by Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz and PAAM Cold Case Homicide Chair Jerry Jarzynka, a handful of local criminal justice students are lending their assistance to help law enforcement tackle some of these longstanding cases, going through old police reports, preparing case summaries and even scheduling witness interviews. In many cases, these students will be able to provide officers with a fresh set of eyes while combing through old files, perhaps allowing new insights that could finally lead to that elusive breakthrough police have been searching for — and with it, long awaited justice for the families of victims in these tragic cases.

At SMC last fall, eight students were selected to take part in the school’s “Project Justice,” dedicated to helping law enforcement solve this problem. They were Abbi Guyott (Edwardsburg), Ann Lim (Holland), Nicholas Mathias (Niles), Julie Sisk (Niles), Stephanie Rich (Berrien Springs), Shannon Gonzalez (Eau Claire), Calvin Gillings (Niles) and Tyler Fye (Stevensville).

We are pleased to see this new partnership underway, right here in own backyard.

Both police and students are sure to benefit from this collaboration.

Police, as mentioned earlier, will gain new perspectives from having a different set of eyes going over old reports and evidence. Cold case detectives will also have some much needed assistance, as their burden will be lessened, which could lead to increased focus and better results.

Students, meanwhile, will earn invaluable experience working on real world cases before they even graduate. This will certainly go a long way in helping them jump start their careers once they complete their education.

Not only that, but working side-by-side with police will only help reinforce the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom, and continue to stoke the flames of their passion for criminal justice, which will no doubt push them to continue to hone their craft.

We hope this program will help both parties achieve their goals, and finally bring the light of justice to these otherwise bleak cases.


Opinions expressed are those of the editorial board consisting of Publisher Michael Caldwell and editors Ambrosia Neldon, Craig Haupert, Ted Yoakum and Scott Novak.