Unsolved murder rate in US highest in decades amid police staffing shortfalls

The murder clearance rate – the share of cases that are solved or closed for other reasons – has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century

A new investigation from CBS has revealed that murders across the US are going unsolved at a historic pace.

The murder clearance rate – the share of cases that are solved or closed for other reasons – has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century, as underfunded and understaffed police departments across the country struggle to keep up.

"The whole system is backlogged," says Jackson, Mississippi Police Chief James Davis. "I could use more police officers. I could use more homicide detectives, but if the state is backed up, the court is backed up, we will still have the same problem by developing these cases that we're already doing."

The city of Jackson's police department has only eight homicide detectives, but responded to 153 murders in the last year, which for a population of about 160,000 makes it one of the highest per capita rates in the country. FBI guidelines suggest that each detective take no more than five cases at a time.

"It's never been this bad," says Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project. "During the last seven months of 2020, most murders went unsolved. That's never happened before in America."

Tucker Carlson expressed frustration about the situation on his show, arguing that nobody in power seems to care or prioritize solving some of these cases.

"Authorities have offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who can find the person who left a noose at Obama's presidential library," he explained. "What's interesting is, for perspective, is that there's no $100,000 reward outstanding for the, say, thousands of unsolved murders in this country and that's a lot of murders."

Another issue that exacerbates the situation is the erosion of trust between the police and the communities they serve, a result of an increasing number of high-profile police misconduct cases, making it harder to receive tips or to get help from witnesses

"We've gotten in our own way," Philadelphia Police Department commissioner Danielle Outlaw told CBS News, referring to these episodes of police misconduct. "It has to be a two-way street, as it is with any relationship."

The picture varies throughout the country, with cities like Chicago particularly grim, where last year's murder clearance rate was just 24 percent.

To put that figure differently, it means that three out of four killers in Chicago are still roaming the streets. 

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