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Thursday, February 2, 2023
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Perception Is Reality

Dear Source:
I have been following the tragic death of 21-year-old Jamie Cockayne who was brutally murdered in downtown Cruz Bay on the Island of St. John, June 19th. Like the death of Natalee Holloway last year on Aruba, Jamie's death has captured the attention of the world media who report facts and speculation regarding the case everyday. This global media attention places a tremendous strain on the local government, especially the police department charged with the investigation. As an outside observer with 34 years of law enforcement experience I would like to offer some suggestions to the Jamie's parents and to the local police department as well.
It has been reported by CNN that the Police Commissioner James McCall is a "hard charging former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Agent with years of experience". It has been reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been called into the case and are working closely with local police to bring the perpetrators to justice. While the FBI has incredible resources at its disposal and top notch investigators, the 12,444 Agents are spread all over the world and since 9/11 most have been assigned to terrorism related investigations and task forces. I'm afraid that most people think the FBI investigates thousands of homicides a year as depicted everyday on television. In reality they only investigate a few and lack the training and experience of "big city" homicide detectives. You don't learn to solve homicides from books.
Police Commissioner McCall and his superiors need help to solve this case and to make peace with the media and the Cockayne family. The police department needs to bring in consultants who are experienced in homicide cases to simply assist in building a strong case against the suspects. Local pride should not be an issue here. Many urban police departments in the United States would contract top investigators to consult with Commissioner McCall. Commissioner McCall must also make peace with the family's private investigators. If they are experienced professionals with law enforcement backgrounds they can be utilized as another resource to further the goals of the investigation.
Experienced politicians and the public know that it is wrong to try these types of cases in the media. The media knows it is wrong but continue to report facts and speculation wrapped in the Constitution and the belief that "the public has a right to know." In reality high profile cases mean viewers with translates to advertising dollars added to the corporate bottom line. That said, the media becomes an operational imperative in the investigation which must be dealt with in a professional manner. Perception is reality, consequently officials cannot hide behind the 100 year old tag line, "We cannot comment because the investigation is on-going." The only result can be a public relations nightmare for the Virgin Islands and the heat being turned up by the media through the family. Fox News, CNN, Larry King and Anderson Cooper are not going away and negative feelings and attitudes will have an effect on the world's perception of the Virgin Islands which will have a negative effect on the economy for years to come.
Here I sit half a world away writing about one tragic murder that can be solved and prosecuted if all parties will take advantage of the resources available. What has been depicted in the media is the perception that the police department in the Virgin Islands is completely inept and the investigation is at a stand still. I know this is not the case. However, the Cockayne family is featured prominently on television talking about "trace evidence" while the government's public relations machine seems to have stopped functioning. This relatively new phenomenon called CSI Syndrome causes people to now think major cases are solved in an hour or two while investigators operate machines in the crime lab has made the tasks of police departments and prosecutors much harder in these high profile cases. Everyone should be working together towards the same goal without negative influences that will only hinder the case.

David Barkdull
Bangkok, Thailand

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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