Editorial: Cops can’t solve murders without trust and detectives

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Yet more evidence emerged last week of the pressing need for the Chicago Police Department to establish better trust with the community it serves: an abysmal murder clearance rate.

The clip at which Chicago closes its homicide cases is among the lowest in the country,  according to an analysis by Reuters.

Last year, Chicago had 480 murders and solved 233 from 2015 or earlier, adding up to a clearance rate of 46 percent, Reuters reported.

That’s a big chunk less than the average rate of 68 percent among cities with populations of more than 1 million, a Reuters’ analysis of FBI data indicated.

So Chicago killers have a better than 50-50 chance of literally getting away with murder for at least a year. That’s plenty of time for them to create other mayhem while victims’ families linger in grief, waiting for justice.


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News of this sobering homicide clearance rate from last year comes amid a surge in murders here this year. Through Aug. 7, murders were up 43 percent from last year. In addition, Chicago has more shootings and homicides than any other U.S. city, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, as the CPD’s homicide caseload piles up, its detectives – the rank called on here to solve murders – have dwindled in number, dropping from 1,252 in 2008 to 922 now, Reuters reports.

“You get so many cases you could not do an honest investigation on three-quarters of them,’’ one recently retired Chicago detective told Reuters.

Plus, detectives comprise a smaller portion of the total Chicago police force than in other major cities — about 8 percent versus 15 percent in New York City and Los Angeles, Reuters found.

One reason for this, said Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, is that Chicago is still waiting for scores from a detective’s exam given in May. The previous exam was held in 2005, with the last promotions from it hitting in 2013.

Given the department’s dismal murder clearance rate, the police department needs to expedite detective promotions that haven’t occurred for the last three years. Guglielmi cautioned that CPD hopes to do so without depleting the number of patrol officers who help prevent crime.

“It’s a balancing act,’’ Guglielmi said.

Even with more detectives, murders are rarely solved on forensics alone. Police depend on citizens, on witnesses, for information and leads. And for citizens to help police, they need to trust them.

Guglielmi and others agree that rising mistrust of the police is dampening clearance rates. The problem was cited by other big city police chiefs during a meeting last week with the head of the FBI, Guglielmi said.

“This is something that we are not able to fix in three days or three months,’’ Guglielmi said. But, he said, “Building trust is a huge priority of the superintendent.”

It should be. Mistrust here crescendoed after the late November release of a police video showing Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by police as he veered away from them, contrary to police descriptions of the situation. The 13 months it took to release that video only added to the outcry. “The community’s lack of trust in CPD is justified,” the Police Accountability Task Force created in the wake of that outcry later concluded.

To regain that trust, new Supt. Eddie Johnson has been pushing increased transparency, Guglielmi said. That includes releasing videos sooner, whenever possible, and holding police officers accountable more quickly. Guglielmi noted the release – in just over a week — of footage of the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Paul O’Neal. Three officers involved in the incident were stripped of their police powers within 48 hours.

But amid this backdrop, Chicago police face another longstanding complication. Chicago has more gang factions than some other major cities, increasing the likelihood of violence between them, Guglielmi said. In fact, 61 percent of Chicago homicides last year were gang-related — the highest percent in at least a decade, Reuters reported.

Throw gangs into the equation and witnesses become that much more fearful of the repercussions snitching might bring.

“People see homicides but they are afraid to get involved,’’ one recently retired detective told Reuters. “Detectives are out on an island. No one wants to help them.”

Many police here and nationally may feel besieged at the moment, but to leave the “island” and join the mainland, they and their brass need to mend the trust that has been broken with the citizens they serve. In Chicago, that can’t happen fast enough.

Otherwise, among other things, look for Chicago’s murder clearance rate to be even worse this year.

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