There's not a whole lot to do in prison, so inmates spend a fair amount of time playing cards.
For several years, law enforcement officials around the country have been putting that prisoners' pastime to good use. They've been putting facts and photos from unsolved crimes in front of prisoners' eyes by printing them on decks of cards, hoping to generate leads.
Colorado is the latest state to produce the cold case cards. Cold case analyst Audrey Simkins of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation tells NPR's Tamara Keith the department has put out one set of cards and is creating two more for release next month.
"A program that allows the case to be seen and viewed by a lot of people who may have input or information really just gets the case moving forward and allows the investigators to work on whatever leads may come in," Simkins says.
Colorado has nearly 1,600 cold cases, which they define as cases that are unsolved 3 years after the crime, she says. Officials sifted through those cases to find the most likely candidates for a photo and description to print on the cards' faces.
The decks are generating tips, although none of the cases on the first deck have been solved since the cards were issued in the fall, she says.
"We've gotten about four dozen tips so far," Simpkins says. "I think the fact that the phones are ringing and information's coming in where it wasn't before is a huge success for us."
The program is also good for victims' families, she says.
"With the cases being cold and resources being a little bit slim in places, that just their case being mentioned or featured in something like this is huge for them. It reminds them that their loved one isn't forgotten."
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
There isn't a whole lot to do in prison, so inmates spend a fair amount of time playing cards. And for several years, law enforcement officials around the country have been distributing decks of cards bearing photos of victims from unsolved cases to prisoners, hoping to generate leads. Colorado is the latest state to produce the cold case cards. Cold case analyst Audrey Simkins of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is in charge of that state's program, and she joins us on the phone from Denver. Welcome.
AUDREY SIMKINS: Hello.
KEITH: So can you explain the rationale for using these cold case cards?
SIMKINS: I can. They're old cases. Oftentimes, resources are limited for law enforcement that are handling these cases. And trying to design or develop a program that allows the case to be seen and viewed by a lot of people who may have input or information really just gets the case moving forward and allows the investigators to then work on whatever leads may come in. So that was kind of the thought process behind putting these cards out and making them available to the folks on the inside who may have some information.
KEITH: And in theory, the people in prison are more likely to know about other crimes.
SIMKINS: Absolutely. They may, you know, be with someone, or as they play cards with other decks of playing cards, people talk, you know? We all - we all kind of fill that space. And so hopefully maybe some information that they've heard could prove valuable in cases as we work towards resolution.
KEITH: How many cold cases do you have there on the books in Colorado?
>>SIMKINS Here in Colorado we have nearly 1,600 cases total. And when we identify a cold case, we are calling any unresolved homicide that is more than three years from the commission of crime a cold case. We're also including any long-term missing person cases and any unidentified remains.
KEITH: There are only 52 cards in a deck of cards. So how do you decide which case makes the deck?
SIMKINS: In Colorado, what we've done is worked with our law enforcement partners in Colorado to determine what cases could benefit from this type of tool, if you will. And then kind of create a list. And as we go through, we fill cards and fill decks as the funding allows us to. So currently we have one deck that is out there and has been distributed, and we're in the process of creating a second and a third deck. And as we have space, we're including cases. One thing that we have done just in hopes of getting more cases into the decks - oftentimes you'll have a homicide that occurs where you have more than one victim. And so rather than taking up two cards for that case, we're combining them and showing a picture of each victim, if you will, on the card and then just limiting it to one card. And that allows us to get a few more cases featured.
KEITH: How do the families of victims feel about the cards?
SIMKINS: So far, the families have been pretty supportive of it. I think at this time, you know, with the cases being cold and resources being a little bit slim in places, that just their case being mentioned or featured in something like this is huge for them. It reminds them that their loved one isn't forgotten and that we all continue to work on bringing justice to that victim and that family.
KEITH: Your program's been underway since the fall. Any success stories yet?
SIMKINS: You know, it's hard to define success. The phone's ringing. We've gotten about four dozen calls so far, and those tips are kind of in various stages where local law enforcement is working to vet those. But I think the fact that the phone's ringing and information's coming in where it wasn't before is a huge success for us.
KEITH: Audrey Simkins is the cold case analyst for the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. Thanks for speaking with us.
SIMKINS: Thanks so much for giving me a call. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.