For years, Jim Adcock, a former coroner living in the South, has been sounding the alarm to police brass and anyone else who will listen: America’s big city police departments are mired in a cold case crisis.
The national murder clearance rate – the calculation of cases that end with an arrest or identification of a suspect who can’t be apprehended – fell to 59.4 percent in 2016, the lowest since the FBI has tracked the issue.
The data tells a grim story of thousands of murders in which no one is held accountable, Adcock said.
“If we don’t address it, the issue is just going to get worse,” said Adcock, who recently started the Mid-South Cold Case Initiative, a nonprofit that aims to provide assistance to departments looking to bolster their cold case units. “The hole we’re in is just going to get deeper and deeper.”
The issue of murder clearance rates is in the spotlight as Chicago officials struggle to solve gun violence that’s plaguing the city. But the nation’s third-largest city, which only cleared 26 percent of its homicides in 2016, is just one among many big cities struggling to quickly solve gun crimes, according to FBI data and crime experts.
Last weekend in Chicago, more than 70 people were shot, including 12 fatally, but only a single arrest has been made so far from the dozens of shootings over a 60-hour period.
The frustrating weekend led Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to decry a culture where too few Chicagoans living in some of the city’s most violence-plagued neighborhoods are willing to cooperate with police.
Politicians and police chiefs in many other cities know the struggle.
It’s one that has been exacerbated in municipalities to varying degrees by politics, fear, a no-snitching philosophy mentality pervasive in some enclaves, diminished resources for law enforcement and discontent with policing in minority communities, experts say.
Gangs fueling much of the violence have become less hierarchical over the last several decades. As a result, they have also become more perplexing for investigators to understand, said Peter Scharf, a Louisiana State University criminologist who has advised the New Orleans Police Department in the past.
In big cities such as Baltimore, Chicago and New Orleans – which cleared less than 28 percent of its homicide cases in 2016 – the fracturing of gangs has added a difficult dimension for detectives as they try to glean information from the streets.
“It’s a national disaster,” Scharf said of the declining national clearance rate. “With every one of these weekends where you see multiple killed and even more wounded and few arrested, the gangs become more emboldened and the witnesses weaker in their conviction to step up.”
SOURCE: Aamer Madhani