Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting Away With Murder


Despite the rise of DNA fingerprinting and other "CSI"-style crime-fighting wizardry, more and more people in this country are getting away with murder. FBI figures reviewed by The Associated Press show that the homicide clearance rate, as detectives call it, dropped from 91 percent in 1963 — the first year records were kept in the manner they are now — to 61 percent in 2007.

Law enforcement officials say the chief reason is a rise in drug- and gang-related killings, which are often impersonal and anonymous, and thus harder to solve than slayings among family members or friends. As a result, police departments are carrying an ever-growing number of "cold-case" murders on their books.

The clearance rate is the number of homicides solved in a year, compared with the number of killings committed that year. The solved killings can include homicides committed in previous years.

The number of criminal homicides committed in the U.S. climbed from 4,566 in 1963 to 14,811 in 2007, according to the FBI. The clearance rate has been dropping pretty steadily over the past four decades, slipping under 80 percent in the early 1970s and below 70 percent in the late 1980s. In cities with populations over 1 million, the 2007 clearance rate was 59 percent, down from 89 percent in 1963.

Students from Criminology might also remember the video we watched on "Stop Snitching", the code of the street credo which encourages people to not cooperate with police when a crime occurs. As a result, we now have some inner-city neighborhoods which have clearance rates in the single digits on homicide.
Also, gang-related killings are increasingly going unsolved because witnesses are too scared to help police, said Dallas Drake of the Center for Homicide Research, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization. Gangs have played on people's fears by warning them — via underground DVDs, in some cases — against "snitching."
The story makes a few questionable assertions (such as the idea that stranger to stranger homicide has "increased" when, in fact, we don't know that to be the case), but overall an interesting take on a troubling trend.

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