Unified police gathered with families of cold-case homicide victims. For some, it was the first time police had contacted them in decades.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera speaks during a community meeting at Kearns High School Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

For some, it has been decades since their loved one was murdered, with no answers about who the killer might be.

The cases went cold. Years stretched on, often with little or no communication from the police about the case.

They were left to wonder not only who killed their family member — but were the police doing anything on their case?

The Unified Police Department has changed the way it handles cold cases, and that now includes improving efforts to communicate with family members who may not have received a call from a police officer about their case in decades.

On Saturday, the police department gathered together many of the family members of homicide victims and missing persons whose cases have turned cold.

About 70 people attended the department’s Hope Conference — a new way for the department to make contact with family connected to the 36 homicide cases and 12 missing persons cases that have grown cold.

“We’ll never forget, never give up,” Sheriff Rosie Rivera told attendees Saturday. “And we don’t want you to either.”

Detective Ben Pender, who solely investigates cold cases, said Saturday that Unified police has changed some practices recently and is now rotating through and focusing on five homicide cases and a missing persons case every few months. The goal, he said, is to re-examine every one of these cases every year or so.

Part of that process will now include contacting the victim’s family to give them updates on the case and to ask more questions about their loved one and the circumstances around the time of the death.

“We want to include you,” he told the crowd.

One of the attendees, Travis Barrett, traveled from Texas to attend Saturday’s conference. Her mother, Patricia Barrett, was found dead wrapped in carpeting near the old Salt Lake Beach in 1978. For years, no one knew who the woman was, much less who killed her. She was buried at a local cemetery as “Jane Doe.”

Barrett said she had tried to call authorities 40 years ago to tell them that she thought the unidentified body was her mother’s — but nobody connected the dots until 2012, when the daughter gave a DNA sample that was able to show the body was Patricia’s.

Barrett said Saturday that she hasn’t heard much from the police since then.

And now four decades after her mother’s death, Barrett said she doesn’t have much hope that the killer will be caught. But she said she appreciated Unified police’s new approach to handling cases and keeping victims’ family members more involved in the process.

“I’m hopeful that they are paying more attention now,” she said. “I feel like maybe it’s a little too late, especially for me. I just think it’s pretty cold now. But it’s nice to know they are going to pay attention to some of these that are perhaps possible to solve.”

The family members were also given more information about how DNA testing has advanced over the years and were able to give their own DNA to be put in the case files for future use.

For the family of Julie Ann Martinez — who was shot to death and left on a Kearns street in 2004 — the conference provided assurance that the police department was going to continue work on their case. Her father, Gasper Martinez, had always wondered about what the police had been doing on her case.

“We have some hope now,” the father said. “That’s the main thing.”