NBC 10 in Philadelphia published a story yesterday on the rise in violent crime and the decline in solved cases in 2020. The reasons for the shift aren’t completely clear and probably involve multiple factors including COVID-19 and street protests, but what is clear are the results. The piece opens with a description of an unsolved, apparently random murder of an 18-year-old that took place on a night of protests at the end of May.
Mouhamed Cisse’s murder is one of more than 230 gun homicides this year that remains unsolved. Police have solved fewer than 30% of gun homicides in 2020.
The clearance rate is even worse when looking at non-fatal shootings, or those in which the victim survives. Only 16% of the 1,300 non-fatal shootings this year have been cleared.
Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Ben Naish overseeing investigations, including gun crimes, said police are overwhelmed with the surge in shootings. He blames COVID-19 and the summer’s civil unrest.
“I think it’s fair to say there became this sense of lawlessness,” Naish said.
As the piece points out, non-fatal shootings are even less likely to be solved. That makes no sense given that surviving victims ought to be better able to point police in the direction of suspects. But the Deputy Commissioner points out that the norms about “snitching” mean police often can’t solve these crimes unless they have video: “If we don’t have video to show how it happened, we are having a hard time in clearing that.”
Even if police do catch and arrest a suspect, that doesn’t mean the person will get convicted. Short of having the entire crime on video, convictions usually require testimony, but if no one will talk the cases have to be dropped.
Since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in 2018, the percentage of gun crime cases that are either withdrawn or dismissed have gone up from 30% in 2018 to 40% in 2020. And those numbers are a far drop from 2015 when the dismissal and withdrawal rate was 18%.
Krasner said shooting cases are tough to prove in court if witnesses are reluctant to testify. Some witnesses simply don’t trust the system, he said…
Krasner deflected when asked if the low clearance and conviction rate is contributing to the increased gun violence by emboldening shooters.
“I think our police commissioner is doing the best she can,” Krasner said. “I don’t want to say they are emboldened. But I do want to say that we are ready to shoulder the burden with the police department to solve these cases more quickly.”
You can see why he would want to duck that question but it makes sense that if violent offenders remain on the streets crime is likely to go up. You’re gradually sending a message that there is no accountability for violence. Just look at these numbers. If less than a 1/3 of murders result in arrest, charge or prosecution, you’re not creating much of a disincentive.
Here’s NBC 10s report: