Ten FBI agents have been assigned to assist Oakland, a city with a high murder rate, part of a larger effort to improve homicide clearance rates, which dropped nationwide from more than 90 percent in the 1950s to 64 percent in 2014, reports the Wall Street Journal. The FBI also has sent agents to Baltimore, where killings have surged this year, while the Justice Department has provided aid to six cities struggling with crime and will add five more, including Newark, N.J., and Flint, Mi. Criminologists say there are a number of factors behind the drop in clearance rates, including more murders of strangers, witnesses increasingly reluctant to talk, higher standards for charging suspects, and police departments that have shifted resources to crime prevention from crime-solving. In Oakland, which cleared one-third of its murders in the past five years, each of nine homicide detectives juggles at least 10 cases, more than twice the national average. Although murders declined from 127 in 2012 to 80 last year, the city still has a high rate.
Embedding so many FBI agents in a police department is a new tack. Federal agents work with local police on gang and drug task forces, but it is unusual to have so many work on everyday murders that likely won't end up in federal court. The arrangement worries defense attorneys, who fear federal regulations that make it harder for them to get testimony or documents from the FBI in state criminal cases. Civil-liberties advocates want more oversight of the arrangement because Oakland police gain access to FBI databases and the agency's expertise in social-network analysis, which could lead to privacy concerns. Federal agents may not help so much with one of Oakland's major challenges: getting people to talk who are afraid of retaliation or who mistrust the police.