Family or the community might assume that nothing is happening on a case because they haven't heard from the police. That might not be true. Police might be holding back to preserve the integrity of the investigation, to avoid spooking witnesses, or to negotiate with a suspect. Or the detective may be busy or not the best communicator. Most detectives will accept semi-regular inquiries about the status of a case. We recommend calendaring inquiries, telling law enforcement when your next call will be, and making notes of the activity described in each call so that you can follow the progress (or lack thereof).
If you still have questions, ask for an in-person meeting. Agencies will often prepare more for scheduled meetings, and you may be able to ask that someone higher up also attend.
You might want someone more experienced to interact with police, but department policy might be to speak only to you. Whatever the policy is has to be honored. But some departments will communicate with a third party (such as a cold case organization or investigator) if the family authorizes it. This might be through a limited power of attorney (limited to communications about the case), statement of limited representation, or joint emails. Tell the police you have someone you'd like to talk to them on your behalf and ask how to make that happen.
Ask if there is anything you can do to help move the case forward. Offer to start a Facebook page, make a list of witnesses, prepare a timeline, or bring in an investigator. Tell them about our new nonprofit lab (IntermountainForensics.com) that will (re)do DNA testing at lower cost or free in some cases. Ask if the detective thinks publicity or a reward might help generate leads.
Some cases are closed even though they are unsolved. We have seen many files with notes like, "As we have exhausted all leads, the case will be closed pending the receipt of new information." Or in some cases police close a case because they are confident in a suspect but the prosecutor will not file charges. Police will almost always reopen a case if they get a new lead, but in the meantime you may want to ask if the case is closed until they get new information. This matters because closing a case may help with department statistics, but it also means that the case file may have to be disclosed. (Police generally cannot close a case but refuse to disclose the case file as an "ongoing" investigation.)
Some states have "second look" or review laws. Under these laws (or, in some cases, police department policy), a request can be made for someone other than the assigned detective or department to review a case. Specific procedures must usually be followed; for example, the original investigating authority must usually be given an opportunity to review the case before you can ask for someone else (such as a state attorney general's office) to do so. Cold case organizations in your area will likely be familiar with these procedures.
Many cases go cold because a suspect leaves the jurisdiction or dies. You have a right to ask for charges even if the suspect's whereabouts are unknown. Among other things, charges may add resources - for example, federal resources - for a search. The announcement may generate more leads or witnesses. If the suspect is dead, you can ask a prosecutor to review the file and declare whether sufficient evidence existed for a conviction thus allowing the case to be closed..
If you feel that all avenues have been exhausted, most states have a process generally known as a citizen's grand jury. In a typical scenario, you are given a specified amount of time to present your case to a panel (for example, judges or appointed members). If they believe your case is solid, they can request or order law enforcement to take a second look, or to present it to a regular grand jury.