More often than at any point in recent memory, people have been getting away with murder in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The city’s homicide clearance rate last year dropped below 50 percent, the lowest the city has seen in at least 15 years, and the third consecutive year that the rate has decreased. The police homicide unit posted a clearance rate above 70 percent as recently as 2012 and 2013, nearly 10 points higher than the national average. Last year, when there were 277 murders, the rate was just 45.4 percent, meaning police arrested dozens fewer murder suspects than they had just a few years earlier.
Theories for the downturn vary, from a shrinking pool of homicide detectives to a belief that media coverage of police brutality allegations has fueled distrust in minority communities, worsening the decades-old challenge of finding cooperating witnesses. Homicide detectives also blame interrogation policies implemented three years ago, which allow witnesses to decline interviews or leave them whenever they want. The rules, designed to protect the civil rights of witnesses and suspects and prevent police from eliciting false confessions, also mandate that suspect interviews be recorded on video. “They changed everything,” said one veteran investigator. “Witnesses are a thing of the past,” said another. Police Commissioner Richard Ross, a former homicide unit commander, was instrumental in crafting the new directives and said they are not going away. Criminologists note that such policies are common in cities with high clearance rates, and simply force detectives to build cases on surveillance video, cellphone records, or other forensic evidence, rather than relying on confessions or witness testimony.