‘Pockets of Impunity’: Where Police Can’t Find Killers

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The Washington Post has identified the places in dozens of U.S. cities where murder is common but arrests are rare. These pockets of impunity were found by analyzing up to a decade of homicide arrest data– 52,000 cases — from 50 large cities. The analysis shows block by block where police fail to catch killers. The overall homicide arrest rate in the 50 cities is 49 percent, but in areas of impunity, police make arrests less than 33 percent of the time. Despite a national drop in violence to historic lows, 34 of the 50 cities have a lower homicide arrest rate now than a decade ago. Some cities, such as Baltimore and Chicago, solve so few homicides that vast areas stretching for miles experience hundreds of homicides with virtually no arrests. In other places, such as Atlanta, police manage to make arrests in a majority of homicides, even in the city’s most violent areas.

Homicide arrest rates vary widely when examined by the victim’s race. An arrest was made in 63 percent of killings of whites, compared with 48 percent of killings of Latinos and 46 percent of killings of blacks. Almost all of the low-arrest zones are home primarily to low-income black residents.  Police blame the failure to solve homicides on insufficient resources and poor relationships with residents, especially in areas dealing with drug and gang activity where potential witnesses fear retaliation. Families of those killed, and some officers, say the fault rests with apathetic police departments. The Post data are more precise than the national homicide data published by the FBI, which fail to distinguish whether a case was closed due to an arrest or other circumstances, such as the death of the suspect. There are 17 cities where killings have spiked over the past decade but where police make fewer arrests. In Indianapolis, only 64 of the 155 criminal homicides last year resulted in an arrest.

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