Why Do Police Murder Clearance Rates Vary So Much From Place To Place?


When it comes to solving murder cases, statistics suggest that the Albuquerque Police Department had a very good year in 2013. The city's reported murder clearance rate was 95 percent. Other cities were putting up numbers they would rather not publicize, reports Governing. According to FBI statistics, Buffalo cleared just over one-fifth of its 2013 murder caseload. Does this mean cops in Albuquerque are nearly five times better at solving murders than the ones in Buffalo? No. Impressive clearance rates are trumpeted in press releases and news conferences, but how they're reported is open to interpretation. Sometimes the resolution of a case is beyond a police department's control. Data in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program show just how widely clearance rates vary across larger police departments. Of the 100 cities reporting the most murders in 2013, 11 cleared less than a quarter of their cases.

Meanwhile, eight departments registered clearance rates of 90 percent or more. The national murder clearance rate was 64 percent for 2013. One statistical complication is that the FBI counts clearances for crimes committed in previous years as part of current-year statistics, while prior annual rates aren't revised. This is why Fayetteville, N.C., and several smaller departments ecorded murder clearance rates higher than 100 percent for 2013. There are many reasons why clearance data vary so much. The most common way for a case to be cleared is if a suspect is arrested or charged, but the FBI allows for clearances by “exceptional means” when charges are not filed. Sometimes this is because a suspect has died or witnesses decline to testify, but different departments might clear cases this way under a litany of circumstances. “I don't think it's a measure that law enforcement wants people to really study,” says John Boulahanis, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor.

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