Since 2012, someone has been murdered nearly every 24 hours in Detroit. Despite sweeping changes to make the homicide division more efficient, police arrest suspects in fewer than half of all killings, reports the Washington Post. There are too many murders and too few detectives, says homicide Lt. Michael Russell. Over a five-year period, each detective in Detroit has been tasked with solving an average of about eight new slayings annually. Major police departments that are successful at making arrests in homicides generally assign detectives fewer than five cases annually, found a Post analysis of homicide caseloads in 48 cities. The study found that departments with lower caseloads tended to have higher arrest rates, while departments with higher caseloads tended to have lower arrest rates. As homicide rates have fallen nationwide, police are making arrests less often.
Solving homicides hinges on a combination of factors, including community trust, deployment of detectives and departmental morale and leadership. It takes time and effort to train seasoned homicide investigators who are effective. Detectives’ workload can be one of the most critical factors, leading to failures that perpetuate the cycle of unsolved murders. The Post surveyed 50 major city police departments for their number of homicide detectives in 2016. That number was compared to the average number of homicides from 2012 to 2016 to calculate annual caseloads per detective. A 2008 FBI study concluded that departments whose detectives had fewer than five cases a year had higher arrest rates. “Any city that has a homicide detective handling more than five cases is kidding themselves,” said Vernon Geberth, who wrote the textbook used by many police departments to teach homicide investigation. “Even the best detective can’t handle more than five cases.” Chicago had the worst arrest rate of the 50 cities — 24 percent of killings led to an arrest.