Over fifteen years after Suzanne Jovin ’99 was stabbed to death on East Rock Road, her family members are still awaiting a conclusion to the case. Last night, the Board of Alders paved the way for the New Haven Police Department to set up a Cold Cases Unit, potentially helping to bring closure to Jovin’s family and the families of victims of other unsolved crimes dating back to the 1980s.
The alders passed a resolution last night that enables the NHPD to accept a $232,000 grant from the 2014 Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Using these funds, the NHPD will bring retired detectives back to work with active personnel to review cases where investigative leads have been exhausted.
“It is important for families of victims of these violent crimes to know that the police department has not forgotten them,” Assistant Chief of the NHPD Investigative Services Unit Achilles Generoso said. “This project is the morally right thing to do.”
The unit will evaluate up to 200 cold cases in collaboration with state and federal partners, including the Jovin case. They will identify cases where viable DNA evidence exists and where this evidence could link an individual back to the crime. Generoso expressed confidence in the program, noting that DNA evidence gathering techniques have improved considerably over the past 20 years.
Yale School of Medicine Genetics Professor Kenneth Kidd said that these dramatic improvements in forensic DNA technology allow investigators to get good results using very small amounts of DNA, thanks primarily to improvements in DNA sample extraction, amplification and analysis techniques.
Current statewide and national databases hold DNA data for more than 11 million individuals, and submitting a DNA profile from evidence preserved in these cold cases could tie someone to the crime.
Even when there is no hit, Professor Kidd said that the data could still be useful if the police is able to obtain a court order allowing them to take the DNA fingerprint of a previous suspect. The data also could prompt the police to rethink their list of suspects.
Responding to Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez’s concern that setting up the Cold Cases Unit would stretch other NHPD units, Generoso said that he was confident he could run this unit without affecting other departments, especially given that more retired detectives will be able to help current personnel. Indeed, he added that he was optimistic that active detectives would become better at their jobs under this mentorship system.
Members of the public present at the meeting voiced their support for the initiative.
“I imagine there were periods in New Haven’s history where the police have been stretched, and when they were unable to commit time and resources to go after criminals,” Donald Mosteller FES ’15 said. He added that he was optimistic some of the past injustices would be corrected.
NHPD currently only has one detective investigating cold cases, and the Department of Justice grant will help recruit four retired detectives to the new unit.