For years, Memphis homicide detectives touted the department as having one of the nation’s highest solution rates for murder. An examination by Scripps Howard News Service found the clearance rate for Memphis over an 18-year period was 69.3 percent, far below the 80 to 90 percent the department says it has and only a few points above the national average of 63.8 percent. The difference apparently lies in how the numbers are reported. Scripps Howard reported that some police departments fail to report clearance data to the FBI; New York City hasn’t reported it since 2002. In Tennessee, the state uses different standards on clearances from those in Memphis.
For instance, the homicides on Memphis’ Lester Street in which six people were killed would count as one clearance in the state’s records. In Memphis, because there were six victims, six homicides were cleared. “It (UCR) is considered the bible because it’s all we have,” said criminologist Richard Janikowski of the University of Memphis. “It gathers more information than any report. But it is a different data set than what Memphis uses to calculate its clearance rate. People refer to it because it has so much data from so many agencies. It’s a tool, but it’s not the bible.” Memphis Police director Larry Godwin said the data the federal and state governments use doesn’t paint a full picture. He said the UCR doesn’t go back to update statistics to reflect older homicides that were solved. The state updates its records, but it counts the clearance in the year the incident occurred, not in the year the crime was solved.