The truth cannot hide...

Homicide, Cold Cases, and clear up rates


Day 3 – US research trip, Believe No One

Believe No One takes Fennimore & Simms to the United States Mid West.
These blogs document the places we visited and people we met during the research trip.

Thursday, 3rd May 2012 – Tulsa PD

Our main contact in Oklahoma is Mike Nance, a recently retired Homicide Detective from Tulsa PD, now a Team Adam consultant, and also co-founder of the International Association of Cold Case Investigators. Dave has worked with Mike on case reviews. I’ve been slightly nervous about his laid-back approach to organising our meetings – we’ve come a long way, we’re so tight for time, and there’s so much to learn. But he meets us early to take us across to the Civic Centre which houses the Detective Division. He is tall and soft spoken, with an West Oklahoma drawl. We drive there, although it’s just across the road from the hotel, but it’s a good call: the heat is punishing. Mike is greeted with delight and warmth by his ex-colleagues – handshakes and even a couple of hugs, and I know from that moment we’re in good hands.

ID parade med

Homicide, Crime Scene Investigation and Cold Case reviews are all housed along the same corridor, and the CSIs’ office door is directly opposite Homicide.

Tulsa’s clearance rate for homicides is 80 – 90%, which is 20-30% above the average for the state. Asked what their secret is, they joke, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing.’ But two of their most experienced officers work the weekend shift on a rota – it’s very unusual for senior detectives to do this – the CSIs are right across the hall, and investigators are encouraged to call the DA’s office any time to ask for advice, so good communication has to be a factor.

In the Cold Case Office, cases are put up on a Tulsa PD website as they’re worked through. They are looking at 195 homicides, going back to 1968. Police detectives are often portrayed in fiction as hard-bitten, and it’s true these guys can size you up while they’re joking along with you, but I’m struck most by their compassion: ‘We are the barrier between these guys and the public,’ one CSI says.

Dave and I are looking for procedural comparisons, and discover that, while the Medical Examiner may invite officers to attend autopsy, it’s not a requirement. In the UK, the senior investigating officer or their deputy is required to attend Post Mortem after a suspicious death. But here in Tulsa, they’ve already had 19 homicides between January and the May – and are often too busy working cases to attend.

There are similarities, too. A poster of the new Tulsa Police badge, has ‘Tulsa 21’ woven into the fabric. We’re told that this refers to the Tulsa officers who were laid off when the city ran out of money. ‘The first 21,’ someone corrects. Back in England, the same process of attrition is happening in Manchester where the fictional DCI Kate Simms is based.

We talk cases and the practicalities of law enforcement in a state which is two-and a half times larger than all Ireland.

Later, we’ll visit the DA’s office, and talk to District Attorney Tim Harris, Assistant DAs and Judge Tom Gillert. We learn about the blight of methamphetamine (‘meth’) on American society. I scribble notes on tweakers and Project Alert, ‘The cockroach defence’, and ‘The three lies’. I’m charmed to hear for the first time the expression, ‘This isn’t his first rodeo.’ (This is 2012, before I became a fan of Justified). I already have more material than I ever dreamed of for the book: characters, procedure, place – and meth, which I know will have a role to play in the story. And we’ve just got started.

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