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.