Iowa's 'cold case' unit loses federal funding

Staffers reassigned, but officials say investigators will continue to follow up on leads

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An Iowa Department of Public Safety official says the state’s cold case unit is “in transition” but stopped short of saying that it has shut down after failing to get the federal funding to keep it going.

“I know it sounds like I’m splitting hairs,” Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Jessica Lown said, “but we will follow up on any new information that we receive. We just don’t have a field agent that can do it full time.”

Lown said the unit’s only full-time officer has been reassigned from the unit, and the lab tech that worked on cold cases also is scaling back on cold-case work. She said the department is still hopeful a grant will come through to revive the unit, but that hasn’t happened.

“I don’t think they gave it much of a chance,” said Bremer County Sheriff Dewey Hildebrandt, who serves as president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association.

State lawmakers voted to create the cold case unit in 2008 but never set aside money for it. Instead, the unit was paid for by federal grant money. At the start, the unit consisted of two full-time investigators and a lab tech.

In 2010, grant funding was cut and the unit went from two agents to one, plus the laboratory tech. But that funding, which came from a $194,000 Community Orientated Policing Services, or COPS, grant ran out Tuesday.

Michael Motsinger, special-agent-in-charge of the cold case unit, did not return a message left with his office. Neither did Charis Paulson, the assistant director of the department’s criminal investigation division.

Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the administration is still crafting its budget proposal and “have not yet come to any final determinations” on if it would set aside money for the unit.

“It is disappointing if the state cannot find the funding to keep it going,” Hildebrandt said.

Nancy Bowers, one of two women who run the site, said she was sorry to hear that the state may shut down the unit. The website is a clearing house of information on unsolved cases that was launched in 2005.

She has shared information with the officers in the past and said the loss would be felt mostly in smaller departments that don’t have the resources to keep older cases under active investigation.

Hildebrandt said he sought the unit’s assistance with three cold cases from the 1970s he has in his county. The cases remain unsolved.

“They were able to make available some resources to us,” Hildebrandt said. “And it was a fresh set of eyes, which is always good to have.”

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