Clearance Rates Lower Even As Murder Rates Drop


Homicides in New York City are at a 40-year low, but many major killings of late remain unsolved, the New York Times says. Unsolved high-profile crimes can give the public a lingering sense of unease, the newspaper says. After an unsolved crime drops out of the collective consciousness, it leaves families in grief and detectives praying for a break.

The percentage of homicides solved in New York is up over all, not so high as its peak of 88 percent in 1997 but well above the national average. Last year’s clearance rate was 75 percent, while the FBI’s preliminary report gives the nationwide rate as 64 percent.

One question is why the clearance rate has not increased as crime has fallen nationwide. Charles Wellford, the co-author of a 1999 study on clearance rates for the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA), noted that the nature of crime had changed. Drug-related killings and those in which the perpetrator and the victim do not know each other seem to have risen, he said.

In New York, the number of experienced detectives has declined considerably over the last few years and many precinct detective squads have vacancies. On major cases, the clock is ticking: 50 percent of homicide cases are solved within a week, and 88 percent within six months, according to the JRSA study.

Advances in DNA testing and other technology have raised public expectations, and television crime shows make solving a murder case look easier than it is. “The public watches TV and in an hour the most heinous crime is solved,” said Capt. Daniel Murphy of the Queens Detectives Major Crimes Section. “It takes time, and it takes patience.”


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