Monday, September 4, 2017

MAP's Study of America’s “Missing Murders”

Coroners and medical examiners reported nearly 2,200 more homicides to state and federal health authorities in 2015 than police departments reported to the U.S. Justice Department, a long-standing discrepancy that has been getting worse in recent years.

A new study by the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP) found significant lapses in police participation in the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR), a voluntary reporting program which policymakers rely upon as the official estimate for violent crimes in the United States.  

During the period 2000 through 2015, medical authorities reported 29,800 more homicides than were reported by police.

The UCR has been a voluntary program for law enforcement since its enactment by Congress in 1930. Physicians, however, are required by law to document all deaths and causes of death to state authorities and, ultimately, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The reasons for the reporting failures by police are not entirely understood. In some cases, they result from unintended tabulation errors by police agencies, according to discussions by MAP with supervisors in those departments. But most of the reporting lapses resulted from failures (whether intentional or not) by police agencies to participate fully in federal crime reporting programs, the study found.

The MAP study found the CDC’s counts of murder are useful in identifying reporting failures by police over time and within individual states and counties. To see the full five-page report, click here. To see the data upon which this report is based, click here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

MAP’s serial killer algorithm available online

The Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has developed an algorithm capable of detecting serial killers who target multiple victims using similar methods of killing within a specific geographic area. This technique can be useful to police in identifying difficult-to-see patterns over a period of several years or even decades.

Data visualizations based upon this algorithm have been added to MAP’s webpage at the “Murder Clusters” tab. Web users can easily search for possible serial killers without expensive statistical software or advanced computer knowledge.

The algorithm is based upon a reasonable premise -- a serial killer can dramatically reduce the normal clearance rate for groups of similar victims killed through similar methods. The algorithm looks for clusters with extremely low clearance rates. This algorithm has successfully detected both well-known serial killers and killers whose homicidal patterns were not recognized by police.

“We are delighted to provide an online version of our serial-detection algorithm,” said MAP Chairman Thomas K. Hargrove. “We hope homicide detectives, police supervisors and the public will use it to identify threats to community safety.”

MAP believes murder clusters with much-lower-than-expected clearance rates have an elevated probability of containing serial killings. But they are not proof of the presence or absence of multiple-victim offenders. 

Rarely are all of the victims within a cluster the handiwork of serial killers. Police investigation – including physical evidence, offender confession, or witness testimony – is the best evidence that a cluster of homicides may be linked.

These visualizations were developed by Haneesh Marella and donated to the Murder Accountability Project. Contact Haneesh through his LinkedIn account here.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Murder clearance rates decline at most major police agencies

More than half of America’s major police departments are struggling to solve homicides at the same level of success they enjoyed a decade ago, according to a study of federal crime records by the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project.

The study focused on the nation’s 160 police departments that investigate at least 10 homicides a year and that also faithfully report crime data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Of these, 86 departments (54 percent) reported less success in solving murders committed during the 10-year period 2006-2015 than in the preceding decade of 1996-2005, while 74 police agencies (46 percent) reported improving clearance rates.

The study found most departments with declining murder clearance rates also experienced rising numbers of homicides. These departments often are located in states or counties with declining tax bases or facing other kinds of fiscal challenges.

The purpose of MAP’s study was to learn which law enforcement jurisdictions in the United States generally have improved homicide clearance rates and which jurisdictions experienced declines. Under U.S. Justice Department definitions, a homicide is “cleared” if at least one person is arrested, formally charged and handed over for prosecution.

The study identified the 10 police agencies that reported the most improvement in homicide clearances and the 10 departments reporting the worst decline in solving murders.

The law enforcement agencies with the most improved homicide clearance rates were: Mesa Police Department, Arizona; Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, California; Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, DC; North Little Rock Police Department, Arkansas; East Orange Police Department, New Jersey; Fresno Police Department, California; Winston-Salem Police Department, North Carolina; Richmond Police Department, Virginia; Santa Anna Police Department, California; Oxnard Police Department, California.

These agencies increased their clearance rates by a range from 36 percentage points in the case of Mesa Police down to 21 percentage points in the case of Oxnard Police.

The 10 law enforcement agencies reporting the largest declines in homicide clearance were: Newark Police Department, New Jersey; Little Rock Police Department, Arkansas; Trenton Police Department, New Jersey; Pine Bluff Police Department, Arkansas; Chester Police Department, Pennsylvania; Elizabeth Police Department, New Jersey; Flint Police Department, Michigan; Camden City/County Police Department, New Jersey; City of Yonkers Police Department, New York; Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, California.

To read the complete report of this MAP study, click here.

To see a spreadsheet of all 160 police departments, click here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MAP analysis of Cleveland's unsolved female murders

The Murder Accountability Project has consulted with Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper to produce an analysis of nearly 60 unsolved female homicides that found highly suspicious clusters of similar killings.

Twelve of the murdered women had convictions for prostitution. The bodies of the sex workers were all found on or east of 70th Street in two geographic clusters roughly along 93rd Street and Euclid Avenue.

All of these are highly suggestive of serial killings committed by as many as three separate offenders. The Plain Dealer's story can be seen here.

MAP's serial killer algorithm (see Data & Docs) indicated that Cleveland has the nation's largest suspicious cluster of unsolved homicides when looking at the most recent 10 years of national data. The finding was made when producers of "The Killing Season" documentary series asked for an analysis during only the most recent years.

The documentary concluded there had been too many unsolved killings in and around 93rd Street.

MAP began its analysis after the body of Alianna DeFreeze, 14, was found in an abandoned building near the 93rd Street corridor, the victim of extensive and brutal injuries. A few days later, convicted sex offender Christopher Whitaker, 44, was arrested on the basis of DNA evidence, according to police.

Newspaper reporter Rachel Dissell linked Medical Examiner records of homicides to local prostitution arrest records and discovered that 12 victims had convictions as sex workers. Among the findings of the joint analysis:
  • Nine were in Cleveland and three were in East Cleveland.
    • Seven women were found in vacant lots or abandoned homes.
    • Nine were killed by strangulation, blunt-force trauma or stabbing.
    Cleveland police are reviewing all unsolved female murders committed since 2004 and are considering possible links among the 12 known sex workers, officials told MAP. 

    Tuesday, December 13, 2016

    Illinois trails all other states in catching killers

    Killers are more likely to get away with murder in Illinois than in any other state.

    Only 37.3 percent of the 756 homicides committed in Illinois in 2015 were cleared through the arrest (or death) of the offenders, according to a survey of police departments conducted by the Murder Accountability Project. The national homicide clearance rate in 2015 was 61.5 percent.

    The study by MAP was the first accounting of homicide clearance in Illinois in more than a generation. The state ceased reporting clearance data to the FBI in 1994, making Illinois the only state that doesn’t monitor how often killers are caught.

    “Illinois is badly under-performing when it comes to catching killers,” said Thomas K. Hargrove, founder and chairman of the Murder Accountability Project. “But since few people realize this, there is little hope that the public will demand change or that city, county and state leaders will monitor the problem and effect solutions.”

    The Illinois State Police, which gathers annual crimes statistics, does not follow the reporting standards set by the federal Uniform Crime Report. The state counts homicide arrests, but these are highly misleading data since two or three (or more) people are often arrested in a single case.

    That’s why the Illinois State Police reported 439 homicide arrests statewide while MAP estimates that only 282 homicides were actually cleared, based upon responses the nonprofit group received from Freedom of Information Act requests sent to 102 Illinois police departments.

    Lower-than-average clearance rates are not exclusive to the Chicago Police Department, which cleared 30.2 percent of its homicides in 2015. Several jurisdictions suffered even lower rates including East St. Louis, with a clearance rate of 26.3 percent; Joliet with 11.1 percent; Maywood with 15.4 percent; and Rockford with 15.8 percent. The Illinois State Police had one of the worst clearance rates, making only one arrest among the 18 homicides it investigated.

    To read the complete 14-page report with state and national data, click here.

    Thursday, November 17, 2016

    Illinois murder cases recovered after lawsuit

    The Murder Accountability Project has reached a settlement in its lawsuit against the Illinois State Police and is publishing online the case-level details of 432 homicides committed in Illinois from 1996 through 2015 that were not reported to the Justice Department.

    These recovered records, available at the "Search Cases" tab, represent only 20 percent of the estimated 2,100 homicides Illinois did not report to the FBI’s voluntary Supplementary Homicide Reporting program.

    Illinois ceased reporting SHR data to the federal government in 1994, but continued to gather supplemental data on homicides involving domestic violence, crimes against children and hate crimes. Illinois officials agreed to release those records as part of a settlement of MAP’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed last year.

    “Although only partially successful, our agreement has recovered hundreds of records that may be useful to homicide investigators and to the public,” said Thomas K. Hargrove, chairman of the Murder Accountability Project’s board of directors. “We are building America’s most complete homicide database and are grateful for these records provided by Illinois State Police.”

    Illinois officials said they have no other homicide records available for recovery.
    Although the state once possessed homicide records from the mid 1990s, those “documents have since been disposed pursuant of the Secretary of State’s record retention rules which only provide that paper records be retained for 10 years,” said Illinois Freedom of Information Officer Nancy G. Easum.

    Illinois this year has resumed gathering complete Supplementary Homicide Report data.

    The Murder Accountability Project was entirely unsuccessful in its attempt to obtain homicide clearance records, which Illinois also ceased reporting in 1994 to the Justice Department’s Uniform Crime Report.

    “The (Illinois) UCR program has never collected necessary data that would allow for the calculation of a clearance rate for any criminal offenses,” Easum said. “Thus, in this regard, no such records exist.”

    Illinois is the largest jurisdiction in the United States failing to report how often it clears homicides through arrest.

    "The people have a right to be informed about public affairs and a right to public records.  Records related to homicide data and clearance rates are no exception," said Josh Burday of the Chicago civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, who represented MAP in the suit.

    Thursday, October 27, 2016

    A&E documentary used MAP's serial killer algorithm

    The Murder Accountability Project has cooperated with the producers of the Arts and Entertainment Network’s documentary series “The Killing Season.” Investigators for A&E wanted to search for previously undetected serial killings among America's more than 220,000 unsolved homicides.

    The eight-episode project ran from Nov. 12 through Dec. 3, 2016. Under direction of Academy Award-winning Executive Producer Alex Gibney, documentarians Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills investigate some of the most infamous unsolved serial killer cases of our time starting with the Gilgo Beach killings on Long Island.  

    The producers asked if MAP would apply its serial victim search algorithm (available for download at Data & Docs) to recent unsolved homicides and sent a camera crew to Cleveland and the site of significant cluster of unsolved killings along or near 93rd Street. MAP was featured in the 6th and 8th episodes. To see more about the series: