The general public may question how long law enforcement will devote to a missing person case before it is declared a cold case.
If someone looks up a cold case, they might see a description of a case in which police had pursued all available leads and could not find any more information.
“That’s technically when a case would go cold by definition,” Independence Police Chief Jerry Harrison said. “What does that even mean? Because a lot of times when you develop a lead, it leads to another lead, which leads to another lead or it leads to a dead end. As far as a length of time, you can’t say a set length of time… .”
There are many variables that come into play. But Harrison said a missing person case is going to be on the top of the priority pile and will not get shuffled to the bottom quickly.
“As far as the industry goes in general, that is always going to be a high priority case for any police department. You might exhaust all leads in a case similar to (the Detreck Foster missing person case), but that doesn’t mean you don’t go out and rattle people’s cages and knock on doors and start canvassing neighbors” or revisiting neighbors, coworkers and reviewing the basics of the missing person case and see what you can find.
“Because there is always that chance some minor detail got missed. So any time you have any kind of a case that is a priority case that you are going to put a lot of resources into, I think even when you do run out of leads, as happens all the time, you are going to go back and rattle the bushes and see what flies out of them,” Harrison said.
Even at a point in the case when all the basics have been covered and creative problem-solving has been done and law enforcement might not be able to do anything else, a case might be set down for a bit and picked up again in a few weeks with a fresh perspective.
“That’s not really uncommon,” Harrison said. “You see that a lot. As far as Detreck’s case goes, it is a priority for us, and it is definitely not been moved to the back burner.”
In investigating a missing person cases, there are no real boundaries in the turf search.
“TV is so misleading in so many respects on anything, and that’s because the people that make TV shows, make TV shows and don’t do what they are covering for a living,” Harrison said. “One of the things you often see in TV shows that is often laughable is this issue of turf and jurisdiction. I rarely if ever see law enforcement agencies that didn’t bend over backwards to help each other, particularly in high priority cases. We’re all driven by a sense of ethic and a sense of service, whether it’s our community or not. If an agency comes to us and says, ‘We have a case we need some help with,’ we’re going to work our tail off to help them if at all possible.”
Harrison said the Independence Police Department gets help from surrounding cities and counties in nearly every case they are working.
“I’ve not come across any turf issues, even going down into Oklahoma. We get help, even going out onto the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Tourism land. We all work together. Federal agencies as well. There’s not this perception of turf and superiority,” Harrison said. “Everybody’s in it for the right reasons and they want to help each other out.”
From a general perspective, police departments have a lot of resources available, and they use those resources. One of these resources is the National Missing Persons Database disseminated at the state and federal level. There is another national database out there called NamUs to which law enforcement can upload pictures, fingerprints and DNA profiles. Harrison said when you see nightmare cold case files, that’s often how some of those get closed out.
“So whatever resources that are existing, we access them, use them and train on them, and this case is not an exception to these rules,” Harrison said of the Detreck Foster case. “We do tend to investigate these cases the way we investigate all cases and use all the resources we have available.”