Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frankly, they do GIVE A DAMN

Contrary to criticism, cops don't discount victims

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More than 70 officers handled many hundreds of tasks, including interviewing at least 150 possible witnesses.

Hundreds of items seized, some requiring complex lab analysis and forensic testing.

Between 13,000 and 15,000 pages of police disclosure alone.

All this for a single homicide case.

This is a RCMP major crime unit corporal's estimate regarding workload in the Chad Davis homicide case, offered in testimony this week at a fascinating Winnipeg murder trial.

Davis, 22, mysteriously vanished in February 2006 only to be found brutally killed, his body found stuffed inside a plastic barrel 168 days later.

Having scrutinized the trial over the past few weeks, it's been impossible for me not to marvel at the amount of work investigators and prosecutors did on the Davis file -- work that appeared to have continued into earlier this year, well over five years after arrests were made and the trial was about to begin.

Whether that effort will amount to convictions or acquittals remains to be seen. That's ultimately up to the jury.

But after learning of the quantity of work that went into this lone case, it got me thinking.

It confirms to me something I have long believed, but realize is not a view shared by everyone.

That being: When it comes to serious violent crimes, Manitoba's police don't discriminate. They will stop at nothing to try to find answers.

And sometimes, those answers won't come, despite their best efforts.

In Saturday's Free Press, colleagues Mary Agnes Welch and Wendy Sawatzky produced a fascinating report mapping out 58 unresolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Manitoba, dating back to 1961 through to 2013.

The data was based on Ottawa researcher's Maryanne Pearce's inquiry into vulnerable women and Canada's justice system.

Let's assume each of these cases involves an equivalent workload as cited in the Davis case.

That would mean more than 750,000 pages of disclosure were theoretically generated.

The number of witnesses to be interviewed would be around 8,700 -- a staggering amount.

If each file involved 400 police tasks to be parcelled out to investigators, that's 23,200 of them. That figure doesn't factor in things like complexity and consultation with outside actors (like the Medical Examiner's Office or a laboratory).

Consider the amount of work. It's massive.

This doesn't include what else is being done on other unresolved homicides from the last five decades, those of the victimized women, men and children who don't fall into the "missing and murdered" category.

Victims like Irene Pearson, a real estate agent who was found murdered in a Tyndall Park home on Nov. 16, 1979.

On the anniversary of her death 28 years later, in November 2007, Winnipeg "cold-case" investigators were clearly still very invested in finding her killer. They came forward then to share publicly their hopes DNA evidence could move things forward.

Naturally, it goes without saying families and friends of homicide victims likely care more about the outcome than the process, which, to them, must be beyond frustrating to experience.

They're privy to very little information from police, given the nature and seriousness of the work.

The smallest slip-up in terms of details let loose into the public sphere can tank years of painstaking work. So the cops stay mute.

That silence is hard for grieving families and the public to swallow, no doubt. But it's a necessary thing.

Learning little from police can sometimes lead people to conclude their loved one got lost in the mix, that their case doesn't merit attention.

Sometimes stinging criticism is hurled: The police are racist, some are unafraid to say.

They're ignoring cases because of who the victims were when they were living, say others.

But the Davis case has again showed, at least to me, how baseless these attacks are.

Davis was a city cocaine dealer with a sometimes-violent temper and "tons" of enemies, court has heard.

And to the police, prosecutors and other justice system agents working his case, who he was didn't matter one damn bit.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2014 A1

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