Monday, September 26, 2016

Murder clearance rate declined in 2015

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division estimates there were 15,696 homicides committed in the United States in 2015, a 10.8 percent increase over the previous year. The bureau also estimates that 61.5 percent of those crimes were cleared through arrest.

The rate at which homicides are cleared has dropped by 3 percentage points over the previous year and is the third lowest on record, only slightly better than 2006 with a 60.7 percent clearance rate and 2007 with a 61.2 percent clearance rate.

Based upon these estimates, the offenders responsible for at least 6,043 deaths last year were not arrested, formally charged or handed over to the courts for prosecution. That's up considerably from the 5,028 unsolved homicides in 2014. The Murder Accountability Project estimates there are at least 222,413 unsolved homicides committed from 1980 through the end of 2015.

The rate at which homicides occur also increased in 2015, ending a trend in recent years of decline. There were 4.9 homicides per 100,000 population last year, up from 4.4 per 100,000 in 2014.

To see a complete listing of the FBI's estimates for homicides and homicide clearance rates from 1965 through 2015, go to our Charts & Maps page. The Murder Accountability Project will post 2015 clearance rates for individual law enforcement agencies and individual case details from the Supplementary Homicide Report as soon as these records are available from the FBI.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Reporting murder should be mandatory, M.A.P. urges

The Murder Accountability Project’s Board of Directors has voted unanimously to urge law enforcement agencies in the United States to fully report homicide information to the Justice Department’s Uniform Crime Report and Supplementary Homicide Report. Police participation in the Uniform Crimes Report has been voluntary since its enactment by Congress in 1930.

The Board further urged all 50 State Legislatures to make such reporting mandatory. The nonprofit group’s directors also asked Congress and the President to enact federal legislation requiring reporting of the case-level details to the FBI of all unsolved homicides not cleared through arrest after one year. 

“Reporting murder should no longer be optional or voluntary,” said Thomas K. Hargrove, chairman of the nonprofit group. “The American people have the right to know the basic details of the nation’s murders and whether those killings have been solved.”

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services estimates 653,903 Americans were victims of homicides committed from 1980 through 2014. The Murder Accountability Project estimates at least 25,300 killings were not reported to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and at least 37,200 were not reported to the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). Police also failed to report whether at least 43,600 killings were cleared through arrest.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Murder Accountability Project has obtained case-level details on 21,800 homicides not reported to the Supplementary Homicide Report. The nonprofit group also has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Illinois State Police which in 1994 ceased reporting homicide clearance data from Illinois to the UCR and any data whatsoever to the SHR.

For the exact policies approved by the Murder Accountability Project’s Board, click here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Homicide reports for 2014 now available

The Murder Accountability Project has assembled summary and individual case data for more than 14,200 homicides committed in the United States during 2014. These data are now available for exploration at this site.

This is the most complete accounting for U.S. homicides available anywhere.

The FBI estimates there were 14,249 homicides committed in 2014, of which local police reported summaries of 13,923 cases to the Uniform Crime Report and details of 13,175 cases to the Supplementary Homicide Report, both voluntary reporting systems.

The Murder Accountability Project, using the Freedom of Information Act, has obtained details on 1,156 homicides that were not reported to the FBI in 2014 by police agencies that do not participate in federal reporting programs.

To determine the clearance rate for any state, county or individual law enforcement agency, go to the "Clearance Rates" tab to see how many homicides were cleared through arrest and reported to the FBI. It should be noted that not all police departments report clearance information. The Chicago Police Department, for example, had the nation’s largest number of homicides in 2014 but failed to report if any were cleared.

Among the 10 largest police departments, as calculated by the number of homicides they investigated, the best reported clearance rates were by the City of Los Angeles with 75.8 percent, New York City with 71.2 percent and Houston with 70.7 percent.

The lowest clearance rates were reported by New Orleans with 43.3 percent, Detroit with 44.6 percent, St. Louis with 44.7 percent and Baltimore with 45 percent.

The Supplementary Homicide Report contains details about individual killings, such as the age, sex, race and method of death for victims as well as the suspected circumstances of the killing and demographic information about the offender, if known.

To search details of individual cases, go to the "Search Cases" tab. Police investigators can use these records to test theories about suspected offenders, especially suspects who may have committed crimes across multiple jurisdictions or over multiple years within the same jurisdiction. (Please review the “How to Use” tab.)

These files can also be used to spot the work of serial killers. For example, to see cases linked to accused serial killer Darren Deon Vann, go to the “Search Cases” tab and select “Indiana” under state, “Lake” under county and “Gary” under agency. Select “female” under sex, and “Strangulation” and “Other or Type Unknown” under weapon. Vann was arrested in October 2014 after telling authorities he’d been active in the Gary area since the 1990s and leading police to the bodies of six previously unknown female victims.

The Murder Accountability Project has assembled case details on 638,454 homicides from 1980 through 2014, including 21,807 cases not reported to the FBI.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Illinois State Police sued for missing murder data

The Murder Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit to compel the Illinois State Police to provide homicide clearance counts and other important murder data it ceased reporting to the U.S. Department of Justice and to the public more than 20 years ago.

The nonprofit organization filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on December 3, 2015, in Cook County Circuit Court. The Murder Accountability Project contends the general public has a right to know the details of unsolved homicides, including how many unsolved murders have been committed in Illinois.

In 1994, Illinois State Police stopped reporting homicide clearance counts to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report or any information whatsoever to the bureau’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The Murder Accountability Project contends this information is useful to police departments nationwide in solving crimes, especially those involving offenders suspected of killing across jurisdictional lines.

“The people of Illinois have the right to know how they are being murdered and whether those murders have been solved,” said Thomas K. Hargrove, founder and chairman of the Murder Accountability Project.

Illinois is the largest jurisdiction in the United States failing to report complete homicide information so that police, policy makers and the general public may know what kinds of homicides have not been cleared through arrest.

"It is the public policy of Illinois that all people have access to public records in order to promote transparency and ensure proper administration of their own government,” said attorney Matthew V. Topic of the Chicago civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, who prepared the suit.

The Murder Accountability Project has assembled the nation’s most complete accounting of homicides, including nearly 21,000 murders not reported to the U.S. Department of Justice under its voluntary crime reporting programs. The group makes these data available at its website and regularly makes presentations on how to use the data at training seminars for law enforcement.

Questions about this lawsuit or the Murder Accountability Project can be addressed to Hargrove at 571-606-5999 or at Topic can be reached at 312-243-5900 or at

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A solution to San Francisco's unsolved murders

Killers are likely to get away with murder in several major cities within the San Francisco Bay Area. The problem is that insufficient resources have been assigned to combat deteriorating murder clearance rates -- a problem facing police in much of the nation.

But an experimental partnership between the Oakland Police Department and the FBI has both underscored the problem and demonstrated the solution to America's declining homicide clearances. (Under the U.S. Justice Department's definition, a homicide is considered "cleared" if a suspect has been arrested and handed over for trial in a court of law.)

Oakland suffered murder clearance rates as low at 31 percent in recent years. So to augment the city's 10 overwhelmed full-time homicide investigators, the FBI assigned five special agents to assist the caseload that includes many gangland and drug-related killings. In recent months, the clearance rate has shot up to more than 60 percent.

"The FBI just came in and, along with those detectives, with the increased personnel -- it just gave them additional resources to focus on the problem," said FBI supervisory agent Bertram Fairies.

The Murder Accountability Project assisted ABC's San Francisco affiliate KGO in identifying the under-performing police departments in the San Francisco Bay Area. The purpose was to help spotlight the importance of the Oakland/FBI partnership.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

How many unsolved murders are there? It's greater than the population of Des Moines

WASHINGTON D.C. – More than 216,000 homicides committed since 1980 remain unsolved – a body count greater than the population of Des Moines, Iowa.

That figure is not readily apparent in the U.S. Department of Justice’s annual estimate of killings considered cleared through arrest, but a little digging by the Murder Accountability Project revealed it.

The bottom line: Forget about what you see on the TV crime shows. Murders aren’t solved in 60 minutes by beautiful investigators surrounded by glitzy monitors and high-tech gadgets.

Truth is homicides are less likely to be solved today than they were 40 years ago. Police fail to make an arrest in more than a third of the nation’s murders, resulting in an ever-increasing accumulation of cold cases.

“We are just starting to address the cold case issue,” said Mike Corrado, president of the International Homicide Investigators Association. “At our last national convention last year, we had a two-day breakout just on cold cases. We’ll be doing that again next year.”

Corrado is a homicide investigator in Atlantic City, N.J., which has more than 200 unsolved homicides according to FBI data, including the serial killings of four women found in 2006 in a drainage ditch near the city’s casino district. The women had been strangled or suffocated and left in the ditch over a period of months.

“We are still working that case today,” Corrado said.

The rates at which homicides are considered cleared – meaning someone was actually arrested and handed over to the courts for trial – have declined alarmingly in America. The FBI estimates that the homicide clearance rate in 2012 was only 64 percent, down from 90 percent reported in 1965 when the government first reported statistics.

In many communities, it has become statistically unlikely that a murder will be solved. The Detroit Police Department reported making arrests in only 34 of its 386 homicides in 2012, which is a solution rate of only 9 percent.

New Orleans reported solving only 15 percent of its 193 killings that year.

“The numbers of murders have increased so substantially over the years that the cold cases are overburdening many police departments,” said Florida attorney Paul Marino, a retired supervisor at the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office and chief counsel for the homicide investigators association. “Active duty detectives have a never-ending run of homicides. To work older cases, they need some sort of support.”

Just about every major police department faces a bewildering number of cold cases. Atlanta, Ga., has about 1,800 unsolved cases going back to 1965, while Phoenix, Ariz., has nearly 2,400 and Cleveland, Ohio, has about 2,100 unresolved killings still on the books.

“It’s a question of economics and of having sufficient numbers of personnel so that our people can do the routine policing on the streets,” Marino said. “Police are dedicated folk trying to do their jobs. But they need the resources.”

Although the total number and the rate of murder have both declined since the 1990s – when killings peaked at nearly 24,000 a year – the remaining 14,000 or so committed in recent years tend to be more difficult to solve. Crimes of passion have declined as courts have taken more aggressive action in domestic violence cases. But gang- and drug-related homicides continue and are much more difficult to solve because witnesses are reluctant to challenge organized crime.

Some police departments in recent years have stopped reporting to the FBI how many homicide arrests they make each year, making it impossible to know exactly how many cold cases are still on the books.

Among these non-reporting departments are New York City, Chicago and Gary, Indiana, where police recently arrested a suspected serial killer who said he’d been active since the mid-1990s.

The Murder Accountability Project calculated the number of cold cases across the country by using the U.S. Department of Justice’s annual estimate for the percentage of killings that are cleared through arrest, taking the remainder of that figure (the percentage that aren’t solved) and multiplying it against the federal estimate for total homicides committed each year.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Unsolved Murders: A growing mystery for most police departments

Every year in America, more than 5,000 killers get away with murder.

The percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has risen alarmingly even as the homicide rate has fallen to levels last seen in the 1960s.

Despite dramatic improvements in DNA analysis and forensic science, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides. National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years.

The majority of homicides now go unsolved at dozens of big-city police departments, according to a study by the Scripps News Washington Bureau of crime records provided by the FBI

“This is very frightening,” said Bill Hagmaier, executive director of the International Homicide Investigators Association and retired chief of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. “We’d expect that that -- with more police officers, more scientific tools likes DNA analysis and more computerized records -- we’d be clearing more homicides now.”

More than 216,000 killings went unsolved from 1980 to 2014.

Experts say that homicides are tougher to solve now because crimes of passion, where assailants are easier to identify, have been replaced by drug- and gang-related killings. Many police chiefs -- especially in areas with rising numbers of unsolved crimes -- blame a lack of witness cooperation.

The public is starting to notice.

“When my first son was killed, I was embarrassed and ashamed. Why did this happen to me? But when my second son died, I decided I’d had enough and wanted to be an advocate for murder victims,” said Valencia Mohammed, founder of Mothers of Unsolved Murders in Washington, D.C.

Mohammed’s 14-year-old son, Said, was found shot to death in his bedroom in 1999. His elder brother, Imtiaz, 23, was shot to death along a city street in 2004, prompting Mohammed to demand a meeting with police officials.

“I asked, ‘How many unsolved murders do you have?’ They said 3,479 since 1969. That’s when I broke down. I was in tears. I said, ‘I know you guys are not going to solve these murders.’”

Police did catch Imtiaz’s killer four years after the killing, but Said’s homicide remains unsolved.

Some police departments solve most of their homicides, even the tough ones, while others have growing stacks of unsolved cases.

In 2008, police solved 35 percent of the homicides in Chicago, 22 percent in New Orleans and 21 percent in Detroit. Yet authorities solved 75 percent of the killings in Philadelphia, 92 percent in Denver and 94 percent in San Diego.

“We’ve concluded that the major factor is the amount of resources police departments place on homicide clearances and the priority they give to homicide clearances,” said University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford, who led a landmark study into how police can improve their murder investigations.

The Scripps study found enormous variation in the rates that homicides are cleared around the nation. The police departments with the most dramatic improvements made concerted and conscious efforts to change.

After homicide clearance rates in Philadelphia dropped to 56 percent in 2006, Mayor Michael Nutter declared a “crime emergency.”

He hired Charles Ramsey, former police chief in Washington, D.C., as police commissioner. Ramsey in- stalled a fresh homicide supervisor, Capt. James Clark, who led a results-based oversight of murder investigations similar to total-quality management methods first employed by Japanese manufacturers.

“This is just like in any industry,” said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, a veteran Philadelphia homicide investigator and major-case supervisor. “If you don’t work a job, then it’s not coming in. That’s the saying around here. So we make our guys work the jobs.”

Philadelphia’s homicide clearance rate jumped to 75 percent in 2008.
The turnaround in Philadelphia has been repeated in several police departments, the Scripps study found.

“If police organizations say it’s unacceptable to have clearance rates of 50, 40, even 30 percent, then those rates will rise,” Wellford said. “They begin to institute smart policing in their homicide investigations.”

The nation’s biggest improvement, according to the Scripps study, was in Durham, N.C., where homicide clearances averaged only 39 percent in the 1990s fol- lowing a dramatic increase in drug-related crime. But the solution rate rose to an average of 78 percent for the city’s 215 killings since 2000.

“This doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez.

“We will canvass door-to-door to see what information we can get. If necessary, we’ll get up to 100 offi- cers knocking on doors,” Lopez said. “It’s civilians, police, even elected officials who come out so we can get more witnesses ... witnesses we otherwise would never have gotten. And that builds more trust throughout the neighborhoods.”

While several departments have shown similar improvements, most have not. The average homicide solution rate during the last two decades fell in 63 of the nation’s 100 largest departments.
The departments in Flint, Mich., and Dayton, Ohio, suffered the worst declines in performance; the average homicide clearance rate fell more than 30 per- cent since the 1990s in both cities.

“Often we know with some degree of certainty who committed homicides but do not have sufficient witness cooperation needed for proof beyond a reason- able doubt in court,” said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl.

Both cities suffered substantial declines in man- power, due to budget cuts. Since 1990, Flint dropped from 330 sworn officers to 185 while Dayton went from more than 500 to 394.

“That’s just part of the problem,” said Flint Police Chief Alvern Lock. “Witnesses don’t want to cooperate with police.”

But Lock said budget constraints have hurt.

“If I had a magic wand, I’d ask for more money so I could hire more officers. We just need more of everything.”