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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Police Shortages Leading to a Rise in Unsolved Murders in DC

'It hurts because you feel like somebody’s gotten away with killing your child with no consequences...'

(Headline USA) Though it’s no longer the homicide capital of the United States, the nation’s capital is witnessing a multiyear spike in the number of homicides but solving far fewer of them.

The percentage of homicides that are solved by the Metropolitan Police Department has declined sharply in 2023, leaving the city on track to record its lowest so-called “clearance rate” or “closure rate” in more than 15 years.

As of Nov. 13, only 75 of the 244 homicides committed this year have been solved by police.

Factoring in the 33 prior-year homicides cleared thus far in 2023, the overall closure rate stands at around 45%.

That would be the lowest rate dating back at least to 2007, according to statistics provided by the MPD.

Nationally, the average clearance rate tends to hover between 50% and 60%, said Rick Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

A low closure rate, particularly on homicides, can erode police morale and community trust in the police and lessen the public cooperation between citizens and police that is vital for many investigations, said Christopher Herrmann, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York Police Department.

“That whole process can kind of spiral down, where the community doesn’t trust the police that much anymore or there’s a lack of faith,” he said. “There’s much less cooperation between the community and the police. And once the police see a lack of cooperation from the community, some of them will kind of throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘Why should we care when no one in the community wants to help?’”

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Lyndsey Appiah acknowledged that closure represents “some sense of justice for victims.”

In addition, she said, “The surety of consequence is a deterrent to crime. So it’s important that we are, as quickly as possible, closing cases and solving cases.”

The drop in homicide closures is part of a public safety crisis facing the nation’s capital. Appiah, in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee this year, flatly acknowledged the scope of the problem.

“Oxford defines a crisis as a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger,” she testified. “So I would say there is a crisis.”

Homicides in Washington are up 33% this year over last year. Violent crimes involving juveniles also are rising steadily, as are carjackings, with a U.S. congressman and a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates among the recent victims.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Appiah cited police staffing issues and difficulties with crime scene analysis among the potential factors impacting the clearance rate.

The MPD is at around 3,300 officers this year, down from 3,800 officers since 2020 — a decrease of 500 over three years.

Police union officials have publicly blamed the D.C. Council for the anti-police policies that have driven away officers and stifled recruiting efforts, such as defund the police.

The impact of these unsolved killings can have a corrosive effect in multiple directions.

“It devastates the Black family, and it can devastate the police department,” said Ronald Moten, a community activist. “It always gives the family some sense of relief if there’s a closure.”

“It doesn’t help you heal by itself, but it’s part of the healing process.”

Moten’s half-brother was slain in 1991, during the period when homicides in D.C. regularly exceeded 400 per year. The case was never solved.

“It hurts because you feel like somebody’s gotten away with killing your child with no consequences,” Moten said. “That’s painful.”

“You want closure, and you want somebody to be held accountable.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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