Homicide clearance rates are down across the nation

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The next time someone tries to tell you that rising crime rates, particularly for violent crimes, is all some sort of political narrative invented by Republicans in an election year (we’re looking at you, Lori Lightfoot), you can point them to this analysis conducted by CBS News in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s not just your imagination. Violent crimes have continued to rise in frequency, particularly homicides. This awful trend is not just happening in Baltimore, however. It’s showing up in large cities across the country. And to make matters worse, we’re solving far fewer of these killings than we used to. At some point, something is going to have to give.

Baltimore has seen so much pain, with more than 1,500 people killed in the past five years. More than half of those killings remain unsolved.

WJZ, in collaboration with CBS News, is examining a crime often going without punishment in our country. The national homicide clearance rate is at an all-time low, according to FBI data. In the mid-1960s more than 90% of murders were solved, generally resulting in an arrest. By 1990, the percentage fell into the 60’s. Then, by 2020, as the number of homicides surged, the national clearance rate dropped to about 50% for the first time ever.

Our analysis with CBS News also discovered differences by race. The national homicide rate for white victims keeps improving. The rate of solving murders for Black and Hispanic victims is much lower.

Those are some stark numbers. It’s almost hard to believe that we had a 90% clearance rate for murders in the 1960s. Now the national average is down to around 50%. In the city of Baltimore, it’s even worse. The homicide clearance rate there has plunged to 42% even as they are setting records for the number of murders recorded per year. But that’s still an improvement over the 29.7% clearance rate they recorded in 2015. That means that at least half of the people who murder someone are getting away with it and that applies to more than half of the gunmen in Charm City.

Also, as noted in the linked report, the outcomes are not evenly distributed along racial lines. Black and Hispanic people are killed in disproportionately higher numbers when measured against their percentage of the total population. Those figures are largely driven by gang violence in the cities, as we’ve discussed here in the past. But their killers are significantly less likely to be arrested than those who murder white people. The national homicide clearance rate for white victims is nearly 90%. For Black victims, it’s barely 55%.

So why is this happening? How did we get so bad at solving murder cases? CBS asked Governor Larry Hogan and he said that “We’re not prosecuting enough people, and we’re not sentencing enough people.” He pointed out that last year Baltimore prosecuted 30 people out of 300 murders. That seems to be factually true, but it doesn’t answer the question of why.

One factor may be the reality that there simply aren’t enough trained officers to work the tougher murder cases. In New York City, hundreds of detectives (the class of officers typically assigned to solve murder cases) have quit in frustration in the last year alone. We don’t have any figures for detectives in Baltimore, but we do know that the ranks of the police are down overall.

This needs to be a driving issue for anyone of either party who is looking to run for political office. There are far too many people being killed and far too few people being brought to justice as a result. We all deserve better results than this and we should demand those results from our elected officials.