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Tacoma Police use high-tech tool to solve child murders

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A computer program designed to help manage emergencies is now helping Tacoma Police work to solve cold cases. The system is called WebEOC.

“The system has been in use for quite a few years so it’s been used in big disasters, floods, the Oso slide,” explains Michael Payne, the developer for WebEOC.

Then in 2009, when four Lakewood Police officers were murdered, Tacoma Police Detective Lindsey Wade was in the emergency operations center. Wade recalls, “A tip line was set up, the call takers were stationed in the building and people called in with information that was put into the WebEOC program, and then the information that came in was reviewed by detectives like myself.”

That’s when she realized how valuable it could be in identifying a suspect in the murders of 12-year-old Michella Welch and 13-year-old Jenny Bastian. Both were sexually assaulted and murdered just five months apart in 1986. Tacoma police think the same man killed both girls and have been searching for him for almost 30 years.

“I’ve been able to enter, so far, over 600 records into this cold case that I’m working on and each one of those records is a person, and I’m able to not only track that person, but I can prioritize them on my list of collecting DNA, figuring out where they are and I can also add documents to each record," said Det. Wade.

It’s a lot faster than sifting through almost a dozen binders and boxes full of papers. “The top priority for me at this point is identifying who my top suspects are and then going out and contacting them, and the best way for me to track those people is to be able to look on here and say, 'I just want to see my top ten suspects' and I can do that just by the click of a button." 

Thanks to Payne's work, the system now allows for DNA and CODIS information to be tracked as well. “The other thing that’s great,” Wade explains, “is that it’s keyword searchable. I have 668 people in my brain and I can’t always remember everything about each person, but I remember some particular detail about him like he worked at the zoo. I can type in ‘zoo’ and his record will pop up.”

Right now, WebEOC is specific to Pierce County, but Det. Wade hopes more agencies will be able to use a program like it to speed up an otherwise sluggish process. She adds, “I’ve talked with cold case detectives and with other Crisis Assessment Response Teams (CART) around the country, and two of the things that both those groups struggle with is lead management for CART teams and what to do with all your paper files on cold cases."