OUR VIEW: Local police can’t perform miracles


By Ryan Jeltema • Last Updated 1:04 am on Saturday, December 10, 2011

Montcalm County has seen its share of crime — violent and petty — this year. All summer, reports of break-ins came pouring in. Some occurred while people were inside sleeping.
November was one of the most violent for Greenville in recent memory. Huntington Bank downtown was robbed at gunpoint on Nov. 9, a Grand Rapids man got shot at the Flat River Inn & Suites on Nov. 12 and a robber made off with a handful of stolen merchandise from Huch’s Fine Jewelry on Nov. 29.
Police are making headway in solving the summertime break-ins. But arrests are coming much slower than the pace of complaints from earlier this summer. So far, the bank robbery, shooting and jewelry store robbery are a mystery to authorities.
Rest assured, police are doing all they can to solve these crimes. Our area law enforcement — from the Michigan State Police to the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office to local police agencies — are well trained and up to the task. They’ve solved crimes like these many times before and will solve these with an adequate amount of evidence.
Of course, getting these cases resolved can’t happen fast enough for many of us. We’ve become accustomed to seeing crimes solved in “The First 48.” That A&E reality show lets us ride along with big-city homicide investigators as they piece together murder cases for the first 48 hours after the crime is discovered, the easiest time to catch the killer. Many times these highly trained and experienced investigators are successful, many times they are not.
If we turn the channel to “CSI” on CBS or “Law & Order” on NBC, we can watch fictional investigators take trace evidence — like a strand of hair or a single fingerprint — and easily solve the most complex of crimes. These good looking, 30-year-old investigators only need a minute piece of evidence and some highly advanced equipment to solve any crime — any crime at all.
People expect all law enforcement to work at that speed and efficiency after seeing on TV for years. These fictional investigators are never lacking the time or resources necessary to solve whatever mystery comes their way.
If only crime fighting were that easy.
In the real world, police have budgets and manpower limitations to contend with. Area police collaborate well to solve crimes that involve multiple jurisdictions. They are always available to help each other in any way needed. But even then their resources are finite.
Michigan’s versions of the highly specialized crime labs, which the Michigan State Police operate, are backed up for months due to budget constraints. The labs don’t have near enough investigators and technicians to keep up with the workload. Thus, key pieces of evidence sit in lockers waiting to be processed all too often.
And sometimes there is such a thing as the perfect crime. The vaunted Federal Bureau of Investigation says it is befuddled by the Huntington Bank robbery. The suspect was completely covered head to toe, so there is no description of what he looks like. The security camera footage yielded no clues. Police lost sight of him on foot somewhere east of the downtown area.
So there’s not much to start an investigation. The biggest clue disappeared when police lost sight of him in a foot chase.
However, all of these crimes are still subject to law enforcement’s best investigative tool: Time. The passage of time sours relationships, changes attitudes, allows chances to say the wrong thing to the wrong person, lets police play out some hunches and allows the dragnet to close ever so slightly.
Maybe a boyfriend and girlfriend break up or close friends grow apart. Only one of them has to point police to the other before the case takes on a new life.
Maybe the suspect gets drunk and says too much at the bar some night to the wrong person. If police pull over the other person for drunk driving on the way home, they might be willing to make a deal for information about the unsolved crime.
Maybe the suspect gets overly confident and keeps committing crimes. Then maybe they get caught red-handed or mess up and leave behind a simple piece of evidence.
It happens. Local investigators solved the murders of Kathryn Dyer and Henry “Walking Sam” Marrott years after they occurred. Several men and woman are behind bars today because of the dogged determination and never-say-die attitude of local police.
You may get away with a crime today, but that doesn’t mean police won’t be on to you tomorrow.

Editorial opinions are a consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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