Posted on June 30, 2022

Nearly Half of U.S. Murders Go Unsolved as Cases Rise

Chris Hacker et al., CBS News, June 29, 2022


Across a nation that is already in the grips of a rise in violent crime, murders are going unsolved at a historic pace, a CBS News investigation has found. A review of FBI statistics shows that the murder clearance rate — the share of cases each year that are solved, meaning police make an arrest or close the case due to other reasons — has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century.

“It’s a 50-50 coin flip,” says Thomas Hargrove, who runs the Murder Accountability Project, which tracks unsolved murders nationwide. “It’s never been this bad. During the last seven months of 2020, most murders went unsolved. That’s never happened before in America.”

Police are far less likely to solve a murder when the victim is Black or Hispanic, according to CBS News’ analysis. In 2020, the murders of White victims were about 30% more likely to be solved than in cases with Hispanic victims, and about 50% more than when the victims were Black, the data show.

In dozens of interviews across the country, police and criminal justice experts have offered a range of explanations for these trends. Some factors are evident when visiting communities such as Jackson, Mississippi, which has suffered from one of the nation’s highest murder rates.

In that city of about 160,000 people, the police department responded to 153 murders in the past year but has just eight homicide detectives to work that caseload. FBI guidelines suggest homicide detectives should be covering no more than five cases at a time.


Police are also contending with a breakdown in trust between their officers and the communities they serve, a result of decades of tensions that spilled over during high-profile cases of police misconduct in recent years.

That has made it harder for police to receive tips or obtain help from witnesses, said Danielle Outlaw, the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. Outlaw told CBS News there is a history of “systemic inequities that contribute to the mistrust” in many communities most affected by crime.


Some states have struggled with consistently low clearance rates, CBS News’ analysis shows. From Maryland to Texas, from Michigan to California, families who buried loved ones too soon await justice, often going years without answers.

Three-year-old Terrell Mayes, Jr. had celebrated Christmas with his family just one day before he was killed by a stray bullet, his life cut short as he fled up the stairs to safety inside his north Minneapolis home. {snip}


During the 10 years since Terrell’s murder, the Minneapolis Police Department recorded 418 homicides committed and only 221 solved — a clearance rate of about 53%, according to CBS News’ analysis of FBI data.


In 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department reported a clearance rate of about 55% — slightly better than the national average. But that clearance rate masks a deeper problem: like in many cities, police are less likely to solve the murders of Black victims.

Between 2016 and 2020, the average clearance rate for Black homicide victims in Los Angeles was just 45%, according to CBS News’ analysis of data submitted by the LAPD to the FBI. For White victims, it was 70%.

The LAPD recorded 351 homicides in 2020 — 36% more than the previous year. Chief Michael Moore pointed to that spike, along with the pandemic, as explanations for the city’s clearance rate. He also cited a lack of community trust in police that prevents potential witnesses from coming forward.


In Chicago, police don’t report clearance data through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, so CBS News submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Chicago Police Department (CPD) data. In 2020, that data showed, the department’s murder clearance rate was about 44% — 16% less than the national average.

But that doesn’t show the whole picture. The CPD data distinguished between cases that were cleared because a suspect was arrested and charged, and those cleared for other reasons. Those cases — so-called “exceptionally cleared” murders — are closed even though a suspect wasn’t prosecuted.

Exceptional clearances are supposed to be rare — reserved for unusual cases such as when police identify the suspect, but that suspect is dead, Hargrove said. That’s not the case in Chicago, where, in 2020, half of the homicide cases police closed were exceptionally cleared.

One of those exceptionally cleared cases was that of Diego Villada, who, in April 2017, was murdered in an alley in broad daylight on the city’s Northwest Side after being jumped by two men. {snip}


Police exceptionally cleared his murder case due to that lack of evidence exactly four years after he was killed, on April 1, 2021.

Without those exceptionally cleared cases like Diego’s, CPD’s 2021 murder clearance rate was just 24%, CBS News’ analysis shows.

In other words, three out of four killers in Chicago are still on the street. {snip}