Clearance Rate Drops as Homicides Rise in Big Cities

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Police are struggling to solve murders as homicides rise and the COVID-19 pandemic creates new challenges, the Wall Street Journal reports. Homicides were up nearly 40 percent for the 10 largest police departments in the first 11 months of 2020 compared to last year. The clearance rate at nine departments that provided data was down by an average of seven percentage points to about 59 percent. The sudden rise of homicides, a reversal after a general decline in the murder rate since the early 1990s, has overwhelmed detectives. Among other factors, COVID-19 has complicated face-to-face interviews and made it easier for masked suspects to elude capture. In some communities, trust in police has fallen amid nationwide protests over policing, making witnesses more reluctant to cooperate. “When you put the civil unrest plus the COVID, I just felt unfortunately 2020 was a perfect storm,” said Brendan Deenihan, Chicago police chief of detectives.

Chicago homicides are 55 percent higher than last year, while the clearance rate has slipped six percentage points to 46 percent. Gang violence, a perennial problem in Chicago, is driving the increase, and those cases are difficult to crack due to a lack of cooperative witnesses. In Philadelphia, the ability to wear masks without arousing suspicion has emboldened some criminals and helped them elude police, even when surveillance cameras capture video of their crimes, said Benjamin Naish, deputy police commissioner for investigations. “If the person has their mask on and their hood up, it’s just that much harder to identify who that person is,” he said. Bringing in witnesses, canvassing crime scenes and knocking on doors are all harder due to social distancing, said Matt Slinkard, who oversees the Houston homicide unit. There were 380 murders in Houston this year through Dec. 4, up from 256 in 2019. the clearance rate has fallen to around 45 percent from 56 percent.

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