2015 Excellence in Criminal Investigation Award WINNERS

Winner: San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department

In November 2013, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (SBCSD) responded to a crime scene consisting of two shallow graves near Victorville, CA. Two adults and two children had been murdered. The victims were soon identified as the McStay family of Southern California, who were reported missing in 2010.

The SBCSD combined traditional investigative methods with some unorthodox approaches to solve the crime. They used satellite imagery to determine when the graves first appeared in the desert. Further, they used state of the art video analysis to assess vehicles coming and going from the victims’ home. Later, forensic accounting analysis of the family’s business records yielded a significant clue. Purportedly, the missing male adult victim had called his financial software company. San Bernardino investigators matched that call to a mobile phone – one that belonged to a person working for the family at the time of their disappearance. That individual became the lead suspect. Later the Sheriff’s Department investigators were able to place that suspect’s mobile phone near the initial gravesite crime scene.

Innovative investigative techniques combined with dedication to duty. Today the suspect is in jail and faces four counts of capital murder.

(Left to Right) Daniel DeSimone, Thomson Reuters; Chief Terrence Cunningham, IACP President; Sheriff John McMahon; Lieutenant Chris Fisher; Sergeant Eddie Bachman; Brian Knudsen, Thomson Reuters.

1st Runner Up: Phoenix Police Department – Cold Case Squad

The first woman was savagely murdered in 1992. Then, in 1993, it happened again to another female victim. The details were too grisly to discuss in public; whispers of a potential serial killer spread. After an initial investigation, both of these heinous crimes went cold. DNA was found, but even years later, no match was found. Then in 1999, the Phoenix Police Department created a cold case squad to look at more than 2,500 cold cases.

In part as a result of new personnel, in part due to new forensic capabilities, as well as the assistance of engaging outside experts such as a genealogist, the Phoenix Police Department narrowed its focus to a person of interest. Then, utilizing a clever ruse, they were able to obtain a DNA sample from their suspect. In early 2015, the suspect was arrested for the murder of the two women and now faces first degree murder charges.

(Left to Right) Chief Terrence Cunningham, IACP President; Sergeant Troy Hillman; Detective Marianne Ramirez; Detective William Schira; Brian Knudsen, Thomson Reuters

2nd Runner Up: New Jersey State Police

In New Jersey, like many other areas of the United States, gun violence continues to threaten the safety of our citizens. At the end of 2014, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) faced a real challenge - a ten-month backlog entering recovered gun data into NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network).

The NIBIN program automates ballistics evaluations and provides actionable investigative leads in a timely manner. The NJSP established a new forensic protocol aimed at retrieving trace evidence from every crime gun processed. In 2015, NJSP protocols, now a national model, involve the processing of recovered crime guns in less than 48 hours – down from the 2014 time of ten months. The result has been more suspects identified, more cases solved, and a model program for other law enforcement agencies to emulate.

(Left to Right) Brian Knudsen, Thomson Reuters; Lieutenant Colonel Ray Guidetti; Lieutenant Jack Donegan; Captain Geoffrey Noble; Chief Terrence Cunningham, IACP President.