Thursday, October 19, 2023

How many murders does your state report to the FBI?

The rates at which state and local police departments are reporting homicides to the FBI vary alarmingly in the United States, challenging policy makers and everyday citizens in understanding the nature of violent crime in their communities. This is especially important in recent years during a period of unusually high murder rates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have counted 24,835 homicides committed in 2022, but only 20,018 have been reported to the Justice Department. That's a national reporting rate of just 81 percent.

But the reporting rate is much, much lower in states like Mississippi, Florida and Iowa. To see how often homicides in your state are reported to the federal government, click on the map to the left or click here. To download the state-by-state data in Excel format used in this study, click here

Many local police departments did not report crime data for 2022 because they have not updated to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) standard. "We encourage police to invest in NIBRS reporting as an important step in assisting local, state and federal policy makers in making wise decisions to assist law enforcement," said MAP Chairman Thomas K. Hargrove.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Murder and the legacy of the police killing of George Floyd

Criminologists and other scholars continue to debate the causes of the recent surge in homicide in the United States. How much blame should be assigned to the social and economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic? How much blame should be given to the continuing proliferation of gun ownership? Did the Black Lives Matter movement contribute to social unrest that promoted fatal violence?

Scholars similarly debated whether there was a so-called "Ferguson Effect" as homicide rates increased in many U.S. cities following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

What is beyond debate is that homicides increased dramatically in 2020. Murders surged nearly 30 percent, the largest one-year increase on record. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control show homicide increased another 6 percent in 2021.

When homicides are summarized on a weekly basis, however, a very clear pattern emerges. Although social and economic disruption caused by Covid began in early 2020, it wasn't until the week ending May 30 that weekly homicides topped 500 for the first time in many years. Although unemployment caused by Covid surged in April, there was little if any increase in murders at that time.

Homicide began the historic hike exactly in the week when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin on May 25, 2020. A video of Floyd's suffocation death lasting 9 minutes and 29 seconds went viral throughout the United States and the world. His dying words "I can't breathe" sparked angry protests in hundreds of cities.

"There may have been several contributing factors to the surge in U.S. homicides, but George Floyd's murder was the very specific spark that lit the fuse to an extraordinary increase in fatal violence," concluded Murder Accountability Project Chairman Thomas Hargrove. "Law enforcement is learning from this experience. Police officers must be trained to avoid unnecessary deaths like George Floyd's, acting as guardians of society and not as anti-crime warriors."

To view the CDC data used for this study, click here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Odds of solving homicides are a "coin flip" in America, CBS reports

Homicide detectives nationwide are overloaded and overwhelmed by surging numbers of murders, resulting in unprecedented drops in homicide clearance rates. CBS News, local television affiliates and chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod have embarked in a series of special reports examining the problem.

The FBI estimates only 54 percent of homicides were cleared through the arrest of the offenders in 2020, the lowest national clearance rate on record. This decline is associated with nearly a 30 percent rise in homicides that year, the largest single-year increase on record.

"For us, it's the volume," concluded Philadelphia veteran homicide detective Joe Murray. There were 561 homicides in Philadelphia last year, a record for the city. Only 42 percent of homicides in Philadelphia were cleared in 2020. 

CBS noted a growing discrepancy in homicide clearance rates according to the race and ethnicity of the victim, with African American victims experiencing the lowest clearance rate. Clearance rates for non Hispanic white victims have improved over the past 30 years. The Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has reported 100 percent of the nation's historic decline in homicide clearance was borne by black victims since clearance rates for white, Asian American and American Indian victims have held steady or even improved over time.

MAP also estimates most homicides went unsolved in 130 major cities and urban areas in American in 2020, another record. The homicide rate is significantly higher in these jurisdictions, averaging nearly 23 homicides per 100,000 population. There is a broad, inverse relationship between rates of homicide clearance and occurrence. Communities that experience low clearance rates are much more likely to have elevated rates of murder.

"The Murder Accountability Project firmly believes declining homicide clearance rates are the result of inadequate allocation of resources -- detectives, forensic technicians, crime laboratory capacity, and adequate training of personnel," said MAP Chairman Thomas Hargrove. "This represents a failure of political will by local leaders."

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Homicide clearance in the United States drops to a new low

Much attention has been given to the recently released 2020 Uniform Crime Report showing nearly a 30 percent increase in homicides in the United States, the largest single-year rise on record. But little regard has been paid to an equally disturbing trend. Law enforcement agencies cleared only 54 percent of homicides by arresting and formally charging the suspected killers, according to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). That is the worst single-year drop and the lowest murder clearance rate on record.

The unusual jump in total murders and dismal decline in homicide clearances are inter-related. The nation's police and sheriff's departments were overwhelmed and understaffed in 2020 to meet the surging demand for their investigative services. The challenges to law enforcement were complicated further by the COVID pandemic, by public outrage at the suffocation murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and by widespread demonstrations on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Most murders went unsolved in 130  major jurisdictions last year (communities experiencing at least 10 homicides). This also is a historic high and resulted in a dire consequence to public safety. The homicide rate is significantly higher in these jurisdictions, averaging nearly 23 homicides per 100,000 population. This rate is more than three times the national average.

"The Murder Accountability Project believes the primary causes of declining clearance rates are a failure to give necessary resources to local police and a failure of political will by local elected leaders to make investigation of major crimes a priority," said Thomas Hargrove, chairman of the group's Board of Directors. "When leaders make solving major crimes a priority, clearance rates usually improve and lives are saved."

To see MAP's interactive chart of homicide clearance rates over time, click HERE.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Indiana serial killer claims "way more" victims in Illinois

Convicted serial killer Darren Deon Vann told detectives he killed "way more" victims in Illinois than in Northwest Indiana where he strangled seven women over a 10 month period in 2014, in most cases depositing their bodies in abandoned properties in the city of Gary. 

Vann's recently released admissions made seven years ago have sparked new inquiries by Chicago police and the FBI into whether he is responsible for any of 50 unsolved strangulations of Chicago women. Their bodies were recovered in abandoned buildings, empty alleyways and large trash receptacles from 2001 to 2018, mostly on the city's south and west sides.

Hammond Police Department detectives arrested Vann on October 18, 2014 for the strangulation murder of Afrikka Hardy, 19, found in the bathtub of a Motel 6 room. Vann said he wanted the death penalty rather than spend the rest of his life in prison. He agreed to take detectives into Gary where six previously unknown female homicide victims were recovered in abandoned properties.

Detectives asked Vann why he killed the women. "It relieves it," Vann replied. "I want to say it relieves the pressure. 'Cause really, I just, relatively, I'm crazy." When asked how he selected victims, he replied, "They are random. They're random." Vann also said he didn't want to provide details about victims in other states, fearing it would start interstate competition for his prosecution that might delay his execution in Indiana.

"That's why I really can't give you Illinois because Illinois probably has a whole lot of... They have more than Indiana, let's put it at that. They have way more than Indiana," Vann said.

The Murder Accountability Project, under the Freedom of Information Act, obtained video recordings of 15 hours of interviews with Vann by Hammond detectives. MAP was told about the recordings by journalist Benjamin Kuebrich who produced a 12-part podcast series called "Algorithm" about MAP's statistical process identifying homicides with an elevated probability of being serial crimes. NBC Chicago affiliate WMAQ is the first mainstream news media outlet to report on Vann's admissions.

Vann said he usually tried to distance himself from his family when he felt a killing rage. "I get on the train. I get on the bus. I'd be like: I know I'm losing it. I try to get far away from my family when I felt myself slipping."

The bodies of several Chicago strangulation victims were recovered along a north-south line that paralleled the Chicago Transit Authority's Green Line elevated trains. To see a map of all strangulation victims' recovery sites showing details of each crime, click here. To see a copy of MAP's 2019 report about the strangulations requested by the Chicago City Council, click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Do most homicides go unsolved in your town?

The majority of homicides go unsolved in a growing number of major American cities, an alarming trend that has worsened significantly during the last 20 years.

Some 130 major police and sheriff's departments reported to the FBI that they failed to make an arrest in most of the homicides they investigated in 2020, up from 73 jurisdictions in 2019, according to a new study by the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project. The study examined departments that experience at least 10 homicides each year.

This means thousands of killers still walk the streets for homicides they committed in major urban areas like Albuquerque, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta’s DeKalb County, Houston, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, and St. Louis. At least 9,000 homicides were uncleared in 2020.

Under U.S. Justice Department reporting guidelines, a homicide is considered “cleared” if at least one person has been arrested, formally charged with the crime and handed over to a court of law for trial. 

The national clearance rate, as estimated by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, has steadily declined from about 90 percent in 1965 to only 54 percent in 2020.

Only one major jurisdiction, the East St. Louis Police Department, failed to clear most of its homicides in 1965. But the number of jurisdictions where most murders go unsolved rose steadily decade-by-decade until maxing out at 91 in 2016, then declining somewhat the following three years. The 130 cities found in 2020 represent a new all-time high in jurisdictions where most murders went unsolved. 

Cities that fail to solve most of their homicides also suffer a much higher than average rate of homicide compared to similar cities that clear most of their murders.

Go to the "Clearance Rate" tab to see how many murders are solved in your town.

This study was conducted using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Only police departments that reported 10 or more homicides for a single year and reported clearing at least one homicide (many departments decline to report clearance data) were used in this study. To download the Excel spreadsheet of the 2,240 occasions in which police failed to clear most homicides, click here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Congress considers bipartisan Homicide Victims' Families Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) have introduced the bipartisan Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act to permit close relatives of homicide victims to request a formal review of the facts and evidence involved in unsolved homicides to determine if new approaches could be taken for investigations under federal jurisdiction.

“Losing a relative to homicide is an unimaginable nightmare, made even worse when nobody is held accountable,” Swalwell said. “With more and more ‘cold cases’ piling up, we can and must do better for victims’ families. Our bill offers another chance to have their loved ones’ cases reviewed, and to get some justice and closure.”

The congressmen invited input from the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP), which enthusiastically supports the measure. MAP estimates there are more than 250,000 U.S. homicides since 1980 for which no one has been charged. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Divisions estimates that homicide clearance rates in the United States have steadily declined from 90 percent in the mid-1960s to 62 percent in 2018. The proposed legislation allows family members to request a fresh review by federal law enforcement personnel who were not involved in the original investigation. The bill directs federal law enforcement agencies “to review the case file” and to conduct “a full reinvestigation” if the review discovers “probative investigative leads.” MAP’s Board of Directors unanimously supports the measure as a “best practice” for federal law enforcement and hopes the policy also will be adopted by state and local law enforcement.

To see the official announcement of introduction of this legislation, click here. To read the complete text of the legislation, click here.

Other organizations supporting the measure include: Homicide Family Advocates, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, Parents of Murdered Children, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and Ryan Backmann, survivor and founder of Project: Cold Case.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Police departments failed to report nearly 3,000 homicides in 2018

America’s coroners and medical examiners reported nearly 3,000 more homicides in 2018 than were reported by law enforcement officials – the largest discrepancy on record.

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

Medical examiners in 2018 documented 2,953 more homicides than were reported by police to the UCR. These discrepancies also were unusually large in 2017 and 2016. During the 19-year period from 2000 through 2018, medical authorities reported 36,769 more homicides than were reported by police.

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

Homicide reporting discrepancies vary enormously by state, MAP found. Mississippi leads the nation in reporting failures at 238 homicides in 2018, followed by Texas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, California, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee. The study also found significant failures to report homicides of Native Americans, infants and the elderly.

To download a copy of this 5-page report, click here. To download an Excel spreadsheet of the data used in this study, including missing murder reports for all 50 states and 323 urban counties, click here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

MAP Vice Chairman and visionary FBI analyst Eric Witzig dies at 73

Eric Warren Witzig, a veteran District of Columbia homicide detective who went on to investigate major serial murder cases for the FBI, has died following a lengthy battle with liver cancer. At the time of his February 18 death, Witzig was vice chairman and a founding director of the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project. He was 73.

Eric W. Witzig
Witzig was a detective at Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and also served as an agent in the office of the city's Chief Medical Examiner. Some of his major cases included the 1982 airliner crash of Air Florida’s Flight 90 into the frozen Potomac River and the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr.

Upon his retirement with DC police after 20 years, Witzig joined the FBI’s Training Division where he worked in the Investigative Support Unit as a crime analyst and major case specialist.  He was an integral part of the Bureau’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP).  He retired from the Bureau after 24 years as a unit chief and supervisory intelligence analyst assigned to a special criminal investigation project.

Witzig reviewed the crime scenes of Seattle's "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway while working to build a national database of unsolved murders and sexual assaults for ViCAP.

Witzig solved the murder of 81-year-old Fannie Whitney Byers of Carl, Georgia, through a records review of the ViCAP database he helped create. Although Georgia officials had arrested and charged two persons for the murder, Witzig successfully linked the Byers homicide to Texas "Railroad Killer" Angel Maturino Resendiz, a serial killer believed responsible for 23 murders. Resendiz confessed to killing Byers and recounted precise details of her murder that only the killer could know.

"Eric Witzig was a visionary within America's law enforcement community. He validated through his remarkable career the importance of the creation of a national database for unsolved homicides and other major crimes," said MAP Chairman Thomas K. Hargrove. "Even while dying of cancer, Eric closely monitored the investigations into 51 unsolved strangulations of women in Chicago that he, and we, believe were the work of serial killers. Eric will be sorely missed."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Chicago Police make first arrest among 51 female strangulations

Chicago Police have arrested Arthur Hilliard and charged him with the homicide of Diamond Turner, the first arrest to be made among a large cluster of 51 female strangulations on Chicago's South and West sides. The cluster was identified by a computer algorithm developed by the Murder Accountability Project.

Turner, 21, was found strangled, beaten and partially disrobed in a trash bin in the 7300 block of South Kenwood Avenue by city garbage collectors on March 3, 2017. Her case was similar in many key respects to those of the other 50 victims.

Hilliard, 52, is also under investigation for two other homicides, according to police. He was previously charged and convicted of the illegal concealment of the body of murder victim  Andra Williams, who was confined to a wheelchair. Williams' body was found with multiple stab wounds in a shopping cart in the alley behind his Westside apartment building.

Hilliard has a history of six misdemeanor assault or battery charges over a number of years, although none resulted in conviction.

Police said they arrested Hilliard after an Illinois state crime laboratory delivered DNA results that confirmed blood found in Hilliard's home belonged to Turner. Chicago Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said, "As soon as DNA came back, the warrant was served" for Hilliard's arrest. However, Illinois officials said the most recent lab results in Turner's murder were delivered to Chicago Police in March of last year.

To download a copy of MAP's analysis of the Chicago strangulations requested last year by the Chicago City Council, click here. To see a map showing the victims' names, body-recovery locations and details of these crimes, click here. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

MAP sues FBI (and others) for failure to report thousands of homicides

The nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal law enforcement agencies for failing to obey a 31-year-old Congressional mandate that homicides and other major crimes must be reported to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), the nation's official accounting of major crimes.

That federal law enforcement agencies have ignored the Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act of 1988 became apparent when MAP determined earlier this year that half of Native American homicides committed from 1999 through 2017 were not reported to the UCR or to its related Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). At least 2,400 Indian murders were not reported, MAP determined.

The FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have jurisdiction to lead criminal investigations on many Indian reservations but failed to report either the occurrence of these crimes or whether they were cleared through the arrest of the offenders. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Defense have also failed to report to the Justice Department many thousands of homicides and other major crimes for which they had jurisdiction.

The 1988 law requires all federal law enforcement agencies, including those within the Department of Defense, to report crime data including homicides to the Justice Department. The Act further requires that the Justice Department “shall report” these data to all “institutions participating in the Uniform Crime Reports program.” MAP relies upon the UCR and SHR to monitor homicides and makes these data available at this website.

"The American people have the right to know how they are being murdered and whether those murders are being solved," said MAP Chairman Thomas K. Hargrove. "We reluctantly are suing federal law enforcement agencies under the Freedom of Information Act to compel them to obey a Congressional reporting mandate."

To download a copy of MAP's 71-page federal complaint, click here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Chicago detectives update status of strangulation investigations

Detectives for the Chicago Police Department report they have obtained DNA evidence from 18 of the 51 victims of unsolved female strangulations and asphyxiations in their city, or slightly more than one-third of a victim group that includes sex workers and women with histories of drug addition.

"All of the DNA has been reconciled" and no additional such evidence is expected, Deputy Chief Brendan Deenihan told a forum convened June 6 by U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush.

Two of the women had multiple DNA profiles recovered from their bodies, bringing the total number of profiles to 21. None of these profiles cross match each other or match available DNA profiles of identified criminals in the FBI's CODIS database.

Detectives, however, said they will continue to investigate this group of homicides.

"We've given these 51 cases to a team of homicide detectives from Chicago who are on an FBI Violent Crimes Task Force," said Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples. "They are reviewing every piece of evidence in every one of these cases. This is going to take some time."

For two years, the Murder Accountability Project has warned that too many strangulation and asphyxiation murders of women have gone unsolved, a pattern suggestive of serial murder. "It's highly unlikely these 50 women were murdered by 50 separate men," said MAP Chairman Thomas Hargrove.

To see a map showing the victim's names, body-recovery locations and details of these crimes, click here. To download a copy of MAP's seven-page analysis of the Chicago strangulations given to the Chicago City Council and Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson, click here.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Half of Native American homicides not reported to FBI

Law enforcement agencies failed to notify the FBI about nearly half of homicides of American Indians and Alaskan Natives committed from 1999 to 2017, according to a study by the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP).

The study found Indian murders are the least likely of any racial group to be reported to the federal Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) which is part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the nation’s official accounting for major crimes. These records are valuable to local, state and federal authorities for identifying and responding to challenges facing law enforcement.

At least 2,406 Indian and Native murders have not been reported to federal authorities. This finding is based on MAP’s comparison of homicides reported by medical authorities to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and homicides reported by police to the Supplementary Homicide Report. 

MAP representatives met with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney and other Interior Department leaders on February 4 to discuss these reporting failures.  MAP’s study resulted from a request by Interior officials who also sought a briefing on the findings. Interior officials declined to comment publicly on the findings of this report.

The study found reporting of Indian murders has improved in recent years, especially since 2015 when several tribes like the Navajo Tribal Police began reporting homicides to the FBI for the first time. Reporting rates also vary by state, with the largest number of unreported homicides occurring in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. To download the eight-page MAP report on these reporting failures, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Black murders accounted for all of America's clearance decline

Declining homicide clearance rates for African-American victims accounted for all of the nation’s alarming decline in law enforcement’s ability to clear murders through the arrest of criminal offenders, according to a new study of data compiled by the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP).

Reported clearance rates for the other three races counted in the Supplementary Homicide Report – whites (which includes ethnic Hispanics), Asians and Native Americans – actually improved slightly over the period from 1976 through 2017.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia, has estimated the nation’s homicide clearance rate for many years and found up to 90 percent of murders were cleared through the arrest of offenders in the mid 1960s, a rate that steadily declined until reaching 61 percent in 2017. This decline in clearance rates has been widely observed for many years.

But the Murder Accountability Project's study found declining clearance rates exclusively occurred among homicides of black victims based upon offender-identification data found in the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) from 1976 through 2017. Clearance rates for all other races improved.

This racial divide occurred in every region of the nation and in most communities, regardless of size. Major urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, rural counties and tiny cities all generally experienced a large decline in the rate at which black homicides are solved through arrest.

Click here to download MAP's six-page report on this trend. The Murder Accountability Project's augmented SHR data, which includes more than 27,000 homicide cases not reported to the FBI, can be downloaded at no cost at the "Data & Docs" tab at this website.