Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Homicide clearance rates on the decline

Scripps Howard News Service last week ran a series on the national decline in clearance rates (the percentage of cases solved) for homicides. The main story opens:

Every year in America, 6,000 killers get away with murder.

The percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has risen alarmingly even as the homicide rate has fallen to levels last seen in the 1960s.

Despite dramatic improvements in DNA analysis and forensic science, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides. National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years.

In Texas, the statewide clearance rate is 71%. S-H had several additional stories accompanying the feature that may interest Grits readers:

This trend strikes me as particularly odd because we've witnessed a decline in homicide rates over the last 20 years and expansive growth of the number of law enforcement agencies and personnel, but over the same period the proportion of murders solved has also gone down. Scripps Howard quotes law enforcement officials saying the reason is the type of murders: Crimes of passion tend to get sorted out, but "Only about two-thirds of all robbery-based homicides are solved. About 63 percent of killings committed during an illegal drug transaction are solved, as are only 57 percent of killings over gang-related disputes."

IMO that doesn't fully explain the data. Instead, I think we're witnessing the extraordinarily high opportunity costs for pursuing the war on drugs and expanding law enforcement's purview to address a wide array of social problems instead of focusing on traditional crime fighting. Cops issuing tickets for truancy, compiling photo albums of graffiti, making arrests for pot smoking, or trolling the highways to generate asset forfeiture income aren't focusing their time on more serious offenses. However solving murders doesn't generate revenue, while writing tickets for petty offenses helps fill up local coffers, creating perverse priorities that (at least partially) explain the declining clearance numbers.


Anonymous said...

I just think our LE agencies are over-taxed. Seems there are a lot of Tony Sopranos out there. Think about how easy it is to kill someone and get away with it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sure, but they're overtaxed because they're wasting most of their time on petty BS instead of more serious offenses.

When new crimes and more arrests are seen as the sole solution to every social problem, of course police become too overtaxed to pursue more serious offenders. There are only so many hours in the day.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Scott on this one. While I do understand that clearance rates for homicides related to criminal activity are going to lower, due to the lack of cooperation with police. The trend is becoming a legislative war on everything that one side feels is a social ill, or can be used as a scape goat. In the community that I live, riddled with property and violent crime, but every night the local PD is running traffic. While working traffic does show a great deal of officer activity and generates quite a few arrests. Realistically these stops for the most part fill the jail with DWI's, warrant arrests, and DWLI charges. Its time to find out what the true risks to public safety are and stop forcing law enforcement chasing its tail.

R. Shackleford said...

Grits nailed it. And as the trend shifts ever more towards leos busting people for petty bs to generate revenue, I think it's safe to assume that the skills needed to deal with REAL crime begin to atrophy. The last cop who pulled me over seemed much more at home in a donut shop than he would've been tromping around in the bushes looking for some dead guy.

M. Simon said...

How about the possibility that with new types of evidence (DNA etc.) it is harder to prove guilt.

Anonymous said...

Don't snitch!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

M. Simon, with DNA it's easier to prove guilt if a) biological evidence exists and b) someone is actual guilty.

OTOH, there's a chance that DNA has eliminated suspects that previously would have been prosecuted and convicted, contributing the lower clearance rates. I hadn't considered that.

Anonymous said...

When witnesses keep quite it's hard to solve a crime. Life is cheap to some.

TDCJEX said...

Besides using cops as revenue enhancement agents and social workers and psychologists marriage counselors and of course invasive plant removal workers . Another reason could be that cops are less capable of solving crimes such a homicides, some robbery , burglary fraud to mention a few .

Solving these types of crimes require more than running around in your “cool tactical gear” terrorizing the good citizens . While it makes for good Television ,it is not good for good police work crime solving not ot mention good comity relations . As currently done many interviews actual acusoitory inter5ogatrions usually just get some one not say what they think the cop wants them to hear to end the torment and bulling or just shut thecop up and go home . The Reid method and it's spinoffs are part of the problem . They are designed to accuse and elicit a incriminating response see


Solving that means getting the actual perpetrator not who ever is convenient and or easiest to manipulate and intimidate statements that could be twisted into incriminating . It from requires and reasoning skills, ability to interact with humans in a way tat the can elicit useful information . The cops or “detective” should have the intellectual capability and capacity to from many different theories as to how a homicide or other crime happened and work from there not find a suspect and make the evidence fit . Maybe that is a reason . We could also reasonably suspect that maybe there are a lot more human beings in prison for something they did not do. DNA is both exculpatory and inculpatory . so cops problem are not inclined to use it or other methods that can exclude a person .

.Most people will not get involved for many reasons . One the obvious fear of retaliation , the less obvious is that by talking to the cops anything you say can bet wasted and used to convict you .so now poeple simply choose not to get involved saying I don't know I did not see anything was not paying attention and w or I do not have anything to say to you with this disastrous decision and as usual convoluted decision . If you don't say anything you have not said you do not want to talk. I have been wondering if Scott has seen this troubling bit of pro prosecution ,pro cop ,big intrusive government judicial activism .


More people will simply say I want an attorney as word gets out on the internet . It will in the short run cause more false convictions though as long as the case is cleared and someone is convicted all is well and we are ”safer” and revenge has been exacted .

There is a way to reduce homicide and all crime overall not ot mention make resources available for solving crimes . That would be to legalize drug prostitution and gambling to begin with and start removing the many the felonies from the criminal code and stop demanding that cops courts and prison solve all our real and imagined social problems . That would mean all 50 states and the federal government