Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Local News

November 27, 2011

No time to spare

Sheriff’s office hopes new system puts time on its side

— It was around 2 a.m. on Sept. 21 in Rio Vista when Johnson County deputies responded to a burglary and assault call near 7600 County Road 1202.

Unaware of what had occurred only moments before, the deputies soon discovered Robert Eugene Warren’s lifeless, beaten body on the floor on his home. Warren was murdered and died from being beaten in the head repeatedly.

It was 2:06 a.m. when Warren was pronounced dead, but investigators couldn’t wait until sunrise to begin processing the crime scene because for them, time isn’t necessarily on their side.

When it comes to solving a criminal investigation, the likelihood of solving it decreases after the first 48 hours.   

Evidence can wash away, evidence can disappear, witnesses can forget details within the first few hours and the longer it takes to pinpoint suspects, the greater the chance becomes they’ll leave the area and never be found, said Troy Fuller, JCSO criminal investigative division captain.

“Have you ever seen that show ‘48 hours?’ Well, it’s not too far from the truth,” he said. “What you do within the first 48 can help set you up for a positive outcome.”

The first 48 hours may only be a guideline but it’s seen over and over that the first two days are most critical for collecting the information needed for any investigation.

Within 48 hours, JCSO made its first two arrests in the investigation, capturing two men allegedly associated with Warren’s murder.

“We processed the crime scene for about 12 to 13 hours,” said Fuller, who has worked in the criminal investigation division for 15 years. “Our initial work and interviews led us to capturing the first two men and identifying the third.”

However, Fuller said in many cases it can take weeks, months and years of evidence collection and witness interviews before a detective can identify a suspect.

Because saving time is important to solving a crime, the JCSO is working on moving to a new records management system that will allow the office to operate more efficiently. The office is looking to move to completely paperless to help manage the stacks of records and investigation reports that could potentially overwhelm any deputy.  

“We just started working with it at the end of October, and it’s basically helping us make the switch to a paperless system,” Fuller said. “Making the switch to a paperless system means less lost time and taking better care of the citizens of Johnson County.”

Fuller said though the new system is still in its infancy, it will help detectives gain precious time by it making easier for supervisors to make assignments.

“It’s all automated,” he said. “Now when a call comes in, the report goes straight into the system instead going down on paper, then to us, then into a computer and then back on paper. As you can see, there were a lot of unnecessary steps.”

While the first two days are critical, sometimes it takes long hours and dedication past that time to work through cases in which the criminal was careful to leave very little evidence or the crime isn’t reported for several days after it was committed.   

Sometimes cases that have gone “cold” because of the lack of evidence or eyewitnesses are solved many years later because when new evidence is found.

“We had a murder back in the late ’90s at a Mexican rodeo in Alvarado. It wasn’t solved until five years later,” Fuller said. “We’re proud of this one because our initial work at the beginning of the case led us to a suspect living in San Antonio.”

Fuller said the suspect turned out to be a hit man that worked for a Mexican cartel.

“It just shows that you don’t stop after 48 hours,” he said. “Cases never really go away and new cases never stop coming in.”

Sheriff Bob Alford said he’s proud of the work his office accomplishes each day, citing the recent Rio Vista murder case.

“We captured two men within a few hours and identified the third suspect in under 48 hours,” he said.

Alford said his office has highly-trained deputies and detectives who can handle almost any situation and given the amount of calls the office receives a year, it’s good to be prepared.

According to the sheriff’s office, the office handles 43,000 calls a year. Of these calls, there is an average of 15 percent which are assigned to one of the criminal investigators.

“The number of cases a detective gets a month can vary,” Fuller said. “Each investigator handles a pretty sizable workload. Sometimes a detective can get about 60 to 70 cases a month or they can be assigned 30 to 35 a month.”

Fuller said it can be a daunting task keeping up with every case, but the new records management systems will help with that, too.

With the population of Johnson County growing each year, the amount of time a detective has to work on a case may seem to dwindle a little more each year, Fuller said.

“Back in the good old days there were times where you could catch up on on-going cases,” Fuller said. “But now that Johnson County is growing it’s a little harder to do that.”

To prevent any overlapping cases, the office has detectives trained in specific areas. For instance, there’s a detective who investigates environmental crimes, one for property crimes and one for crimes against children.

“We have about 14 to 15 people in the division. And they work an average of about 45 to 50 hours a week, but it depends because that can triple just like [snaps his fingers],” said Lt. Mike Gaudet. “It just depends.”

The criminal investigators working for the office maintain an average clearance rate of 35 percent, which is higher than the 22 percent state average and the 18 percent national average.

The criminal investigation division handles every investigation like a major crime and no matter how long an investigation takes, detectives never give up, Fuller said.

“Our division is broke down in specialized investigation units. Whether it’s a homicide or a crime against the environment we handle them the same,” he said. “One of our greatest assets that we have here at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is that we have highly qualified and dedicated personnel serving the county.”  

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