Los Angeles police Wednesday opened a “Homicide Library” — believed to be the first of its kind — of digital files in the hopes it will aid detectives who are investigating cold cases.
Ultimately, the library will house large binders known as “murder books” for more than 15,000 solved and unsolved cases across the city and create a centralized digital database for records going back to 1960.
“It changes everything for families like mine,” said LaWanda Hawkins, whose 19-year-old son was killed in 1995. “This is a blessing.”
Currently, the library stores nearly 5,000 cases between 1990 and 2010 from the LAPD South Bureau. The library, which is funded by donations, has cost more than $1 million since 2012 and officials estimate it will take another $1 million to complete the effort.
“I think it’s kind of golden for detectives,” said Detective Supervisor Olivia Chavez, a homicide investigator who is overseeing the library.
Police Chief Michel Moore recalled his murder files from his time as a homicide detective in the 1980s as blue and gray paperbound books, “and I’ll tell you, then it was out of date.”
Despite advances in DNA and technology, “those murder books have not changed,” he said. “This will allow us to change that.”
The LAPD now prepares the files — such as organizing the records and removing staples and paperclips — for the FBI to scan in Virginia. Five LAPD personnel ship 90 to 200 cases to the FBI three or four times a year, Chavez said.
Paul Delacourt, the FBI’s assistant director in charge in Los Angeles, said the two agencies noticed an “increasing need” to centralize homicide records before the project began.
“We realized that we could not search or cross-reference,” he said, calling the effort an “innovation” that will be worth its costs.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, who are studying methods that can be used during investigations, will also use the library.
“That study is going to be another opportunity for LAPD to learn and improve,” Moore said.