Chicago Police Clearing Cold Cases but Clearance Rate Still Low

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Chicago police are clearing cold cases and solving murders at a higher rate than they were earlier this year, according to Chicago. But, compared to the success rates of policed in other major US cities, like New York, the rate of solved cold cases and homicides lags far behind.

It has taken a makeover of the Chicago Police Department’s detective division to lead to the increased rate of solved murders and cold-case homicides.

There have been 214 murders so far this year in Chicago  between Jan. 1 and July 18, according to police data. Homicide detectives have solved 50 of these cases.

Also, police have solved 71 other murders that occurred in previous years. According to police statistics, that’s 11 more cold-case killings solved compared to all of last year.

However, not all of the “solved” cases led to someone getting charged. Some, instead, are “cleared exceptionally.” This happens when murder suspects who have been identified by investigators are dead, or when prosecutors decline to bring up charges, like when witnesses refuse to testify.

Of the murders solved so far this year, 31 percent were cleared “exceptionally.”

During the same period in 2012, there were 93 cold cases cleared, compared to 121 this year. This indicates that the tweaks to the violent crime investigative strategies of the  police department are working.

One of the tweaks is Chicago’s new “team” approach to investigating murders. Another is the promotion of 70 new detectives. These two changes have played a  vital role in the department’s solving more murders than they have all of last year. Then, the department only had a 25 percent clearance rate, which was a 21-year low, according to detective division Deputy Chief Tony Riccio.

Also, Chicago police last summer ended the practice of assigning murder investigations to a randomly selected pair of homicide detectives. Instead of that, a sergeant is in charge of a team of about 10 detectives that works together to investigate murders.

According to Riccio:

They say two heads are better than one. Well, we found eight heads are better than two. It’s really made a big difference. It’s a new way to do it. It’s never been done in Chicago before.

“Some detectives are outstanding interviewers. Other guys are better at crime scenes. Some guys are computer whizzes, By taking all those talents on one team, you get the best of everybody working a case.”

By working together in teams of ten detectives, the continuity of the investigations is better maintained. Also, the talents of different detectives with various strengths are used more effectively.

Still, Chicago’s police department has a long way to go. Their clearance rate lags behind departments in other big cities. New York City’s cops, for example, solved 75 percent of the overall murders that occurred there in 2012, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Chicago’s homicide clearance rate was 37 percent last year. That number includes solved cold-case murders from previous years. That’s at a same time period when police departments nationally posted a 65 percent homicide clearance rate in 2011, according to the most recent FBI statistics available.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he expects better results in the future. Among his plans is to promote another round of detectives later this year to further the upward trend in solving murders.

According to McCarthy:

Everything we’re doing is an evolution. As we find better ways to do things, we’ll make tweaks. We’re looking to promote more detectives at the end of the summer. It won’t be as big of a class, but more detectives will help. We’re improving.”

The progress being made in clearing cold cases and homicides in Chicago is a sign that the police department’s efforts are paying off. They are definitely progressing in the right direction, but the clearance rate of unsolved homicides in the Windy City is still low in comparison to that of other major cities in the United States.


Written by: Douglas Cobb

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