The number of murders solved each year is only about half of the number of crimes committed each year, according to an analysis of FBI data conducted by The Marshall Project. And at the same time, the country is experiencing an alarming increase in homicides.
The Marshall Project reports on criminal justice all across the country, and it looked at FBI data over the last four decades to uncover the trend in what’s called the “clearance rate” for murders.
The data compares clearance rates in 1980 to 2020, and reveals the rate of cases closed has dropped more than 20 percentage points. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report, shooting and murders skyrocketed.
The Marshall Project found that there was a 50% clearance rate in the year 2020 compared to a 71% clearance rate nationwide in 1980.
A crime can be considered “cleared” if an arrest is made, and it can also be cleared if police believed they had enough information to make an arrest, but were unable to make that arrest for some reason — such as if the suspect had died.
We asked retired JSO officer James Brown what are some of the factors police are facing that are making it harder to do their job.
“I think a lot of it would be contributed to technology, you have more and more individuals that have access to different media and watch different, say, shows and stories, and they take that into account,” Brown said.
The retired officer says more online resources are available for criminals to learn how to get away with their crimes, pointing to murder suspect Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four students at the University of Idaho.
Kohberger was studying criminology in a graduate program and had a keen interest in crime forensics. Brown sad that individuals like him are utilizing resources that weren’t available in the past.
“They read, they use computers, some of them are tech savvy,” Brown said.
He says an increase in turnover in police departments across the nation has also affected the number of murders police have been able to solve, saying more seasoned detectives are retiring from police work while the industry as a whole is having a tough time recruiting and retaining police.
But Brown and others say this data doesn’t paint a complete picture because the FBI calculates the clearance rate by dividing the number of crimes that were cleared regardless of what year the crime occurred. There’s also been an dramatic increase in mass shootings, where the suspects typically kill themselves or are arrested for their crimes.
Protests against police killings, and in some cases backlash against officers, have also harmed investigations and made it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs.