Odd investigations increase for UTPD

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The three men responsible for on-campus criminal investigations said they have been exceptionally busy because of the higher amount of unusual cases this year. The UT Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit, comprised of one sergeant and two detectives, used to conduct all aspects of an investigation, including interviewing witnesses and forming a suspect lineup. In 2003, the department switched to a new system, which gave patrol officers more responsibility for seeing a case through conviction. Now, the majority of the unit’s duties include assisting officers with investigations. “A large part of what we do is to facilitate their investigation, assist them with tools and expertise,” said Sgt. Chris Bonnet. “It’s beneficial to the department, the officers and the public because they get to deal with the same person throughout the investigation instead of being pushed from one person to the next.” The unit helps patrol officers acquire new leads when officers may not have the time or resources to pursue suspects. Detective Michael Riojas said not all officers have access to some resources, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety’s photo files, so the unit gathers the information and works in collaboration with an officer. The unit generally covers high-profile cases, including when UT mathematics sophomore Colton Tooley fired several rounds of his AK-47 on campus before taking his own life on Sept. 28, and the charges of improper photography against former UT women’s track equipment manager Rene Zamora. But property crimes are the most prevalent on campus, Riojas said. Bonnet said the hardest cases to work on are those which suspects are found years after the crime took place or are never caught because of a lack of evidence. In spring 2009, a male suspect groped several women near bus stops around campus. Police never arrested anyone in connection with the crime. “Sometimes you never will, so you’ll work a case as hard as you can and still have no known payoff,” he said. “And sometimes you know in your heart and in your brain who the suspect is, but you are not able to prove that or substantiate that enough for court.” Bonnet said he relies on the next case to move him forward. “You just have to take what you learned from the last case and apply it, and hopefully the next one will turn out better,” he said. The investigative process typically includes getting suspect or property information, gathering witnesses to conduct interviews and suspect lineups, and writing affidavits or complaints to present the case to a judge. However, the process varies depending on the information officers have at the time. “Sometimes, we work some crazy hours just because of our job duties, like going to New York for a day to do an interview and coming back that same day, or doing prisoner transports halfway across the state,” said Detective Joseph Silas. “You just never know what is going to happen.”