Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Solving cold cases puts value on human life

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm with No Comments »
August 22, 2011 10:12 am

“Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” Captain James T. Kirk

I have found this memorable quote, from the 1984 movie “The Wrath of Khan”, to be more meaningful than a simple line in a banal Star Trek film. It is an important reason why I spend my days (and sometimes nights) as a cop.

The justice system in which I work operates as a logical, one-size fits all system. But in the chaotic realm known as reality, many of the problems simply don’t fit. One such problem–how to deal with unsolved homicides.

From the logical standpoint, the needs of the community at large outweigh the concerns of the few. Or the one.

But if we adhere to this point of view, we fail to acknowledge the value of human life. And so we fail ourselves.

It has become too easy to overlook a single death when our daily news is filled with examples of rampant violence, such as busloads of drug cartel victims hacked to pieces, open air markets attacked by suicide bombers and an endless stream of serial killer’s victims popping up on TV and in newsprint.

Over time such images make many of us numb to the horrific plight of victims who were once vital and fully alive individuals before they became known simply by a legal term. To the disconnected among us, they become as ethereal as the faded newsprint.

Though our society has become increasingly immune to scenes of homicidal violence, the criminal justice system has not. Our laws and our courts place a great value on the lives of victims, even those who perished years ago. These unsolved homicides, known as cold cases, can be decades old, but the police and prosecutors who spend time, energy and resources on cold case homicides do far more than seek justice for victims’ families.

Their efforts on behalf of the solitary victim acknowledge the value of each life.

Because the detectives work, as part historian and part investigator, sometimes churn up a great deal of collective public memory, news agencies sometimes revisit cold cases (such as the story of 14 year-old Misty Copsey,  Trib (8/21)). This collaboration between journalists and law enforcement will hopefully lead to her killer.

It is true that there are many other crimes in our community, and many people needing help from the limited resources of our criminal justice system. But seeking justice for a lone victim of homicide, whose memory may only exist on a worn death certificate, can outweigh the needs of the many.

It is a noble way in which to acknowledge the value of human life.

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