HOUSTON — The Houston Police Department is getting $1.3 million to help solve cold cases.
The grants from the Department of Justice focus specifically on the unsolved murders of African-American men.
“This is huge for us," said Lt. Melissa Countryman, who wrote the grant applications for HPD. “These grants are going to be extremely great for us, in that it’s going to allow us time to invest in these cases.”
The first grant is named after Emmett Till, who was 14 when he was lynched in 1955.
It provides funding for cases before 1980, where the civil rights of the victims were violated.
“We wanted to see how many people, how many Black males were murdered just based on their sexual orientation, and so that’s where we are going to start with our cases," Countryman said.
HPD has identified 660 cases from the late ’70s to sift through.
“I don’t have to think about where am I going to get this money now ... how am I going to get this testing done ... we have the resources now," said Sgt. Richard Rodriguez, with HPD.
The grant will pay for everything from overtime to work the cases to new DNA testing on old evidence.
“We have to look outside of our department, our crime lab and look at other private labs for cutting edge technology," Rodriguez said.
That’s where the second grant comes in, focusing on prosecuting cold case murders of African-American men using DNA. For this one, the cases have to be at least three years old and there has to be a DNA profile on a suspect.
So far, HPD has identified 104 of these cases.
“We are going to be able to have funds to pay not only for testing but also for a genealogist to help build these trees," Countryman said.
Family trees are the new game-changer for investigators. They give them one more tool to try and solve some of the cases that have sat cold for years.
“We are talking about 50 years ago, this might be the last go-around for these cases so we have to be very diligent," Rodriguez said.
HPD also plans to build a cold case database with this grant money. All the old cases they are pulling will get digitized and put into a system detectives can refer back to years down the road.
If you have any information about a cold case, call HPD Cold Case Squad at (713) 308-3618.