THE UNITED STATES LEGALLY KILL 40 MURDERERS A YEAR, BUT LEAVE 5,000 COMPLETELY FREE
May 7, 2015: A new website, murderdata.org, estimates that each year in the United States at least 5,000 murders are not solved. From 1980 to 2012 are at least 211,000 murders unsolved. In the mid-60s it was solved about 90% of cases (for "solution" it is meant an arrest followed by a trial, not necessarily by a conviction, or when a suspect is identified but can not be arrested, for example because it is dead). The last official figures on 2013 estimates that 14,103 murders were committed in the United States, and 8,614, have been solved, 61%. The not-resolved cases are 39%. Murderdata.org is based on official statistics provided by the FBI (Uniform Crime Reports), but has integrated the official data with other data to estimate the existence of at least 21,000 murders not counted by the FBI from 1980 to 2012. The "not counted murdersâ came out from an extensive press review, and obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests.
Although the total number and the rate of murder have both declined since the 1990s â when killings peaked at nearly 24,000 a year â the remaining 14,000 or so committed in recent years tend to be more difficult to solve. Crimes of passion have declined as courts have taken more aggressive action in domestic violence cases. But gang- and drug-related homicides continue and are much more difficult to solve because witnesses are reluctant to challenge organized crime. Taking a cue from Murderdata, NPR (National Public Radio, an independent nonprofit organization that includes more than 900 US radio stations) has interviewed several experts, who have given a number of possible explanations for such a high rate of unsolved cases. In Canada for example (according to official data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics) in 2013 there were 503 murders, and 75% have been solved (Canada has a population of 35 million inhabitants, compared with 318 million the US). The fact that the rate of solved cases was much higher in the 60âs is attributed to statistics that at the time were less reliable. Meanwhile, the only major change that experts detect in the criminal profile of the nation is the drop in domestic murders (thanks to greater use of preventive measures such as restrain orders) and the increase in gang and drug-related homicides. Witnesses are afraid of organized gangs, fearing retaliation, and do not cooperate with the police. Since at least the 1980s, police have complained about a growing "no snitch" culture, especially in minority communities. They say the reluctance of potential witnesses makes it hard to identify suspects. At the same time, many experts suspect that the police themselves are less willing to engage when the victims are black, especially from slums. According to Murderdata.org, 35% of murders of Black people remains unresolved, against a rate of 28% when the victims are White.
But some experts say that explanation may be too pat. University of Maryland criminologist Charles WellfordÂ points out that police are still very effective at clearing certain kinds of murders. "Take, for example, homicides of police officers in the course of their duty," he says. On paper, they're the kind of homicide that's hardest to solve â "they're frequently done in communities that generally have low clearance rates. ... They're stranger-to-stranger homicides; they have high potential of retaliation for witnesses." And yet, Wellford says, they're almost always cleared.
Some experts say that in recent years the strategy in several areas of the country was to shift economic and human resources away from investigation, and relocate them in prevention programs. Experts have also noted that the rate is not uniform. When the clearance rate is deemed sufficiently high, much of the credit is attributed by experts to adequate political choices, such as setting appropriate priorities for the police, and earmark funds. In other areas of the country, according to the same experts, it is politics that does not properly perform its task, and neglects a detailed work on crime, preferring the commitment on sporadic cases of particular mediatic appeal. Vernon Geberth, a retired, self-described NYPD "murder cop" who wrote the definitive manual on solving homicides (Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques), says standards for charging someone are higher now â too high, in his opinion. He thinks prosecutors nowadays demand that police deliver "open-and-shut cases" that will lead to quick plea bargains. He says new tools such as DNA analysis have helped, but that's been offset by worsening relationships between police and the public. "If there is a distrust of the police themselves and the system, all of these scientific advances are not going to help us," he says.
The problem is also that homicide investigations are inherently expensive, and cash-poor cities are less able to reduce investigators' caseloads. In Detroit, for instance, each homicide investigator still expects to "catch" a dozen cases a year â well above the four or five that's considered the national standard. And each case takes a lot of man-hours as it is. On a freezing afternoon in late February, about 10 Detroit police officers have spent an hour on a fruitless search of a house for a murder weapon â even though investigators don't expect to find the gun there. Some experts are also particularly critical of an investigation strategy that has always relied on the research of snitches and informants.
Some experts claim that 95% of cases of crime in general is resolved only through some form of denunciation. In murder cases, especially if they are stranger homicides, it is not easy to find informants, and that often stops the investigation. This story has to do with the death penalty too. As is known, the main abolitionist initiatives in recent years proposed to save funds from capital trials and to to allocate them to solving cold cases. If, as calculated by Murder Data and NPR, unresolved cases are more than 5,000 a year, it is clear that this setting acquires argumentative weight.
In recent years the United States has executed 40 inmates a year on average. Does it make sense to keep a huge structure that drains enormous resources to punish 40 murderers, if 5000 are left free? (Sources: Hands Off Cain, 07/05/2015)