Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DC Murders Remain Unsolved

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, despite a continued improvement in the overall murder rate in Washington, DC, homicides continue to go unsolved at an alarming rate.  The total number of homicides has dropped from a peak of 482 in 1991, to just 108 in 2012, a 78% decline over two decades.  DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier credits the overall improvement in police practices for the drastic decrease.  Specifically, she notes building better community ties, developing sources of information, using modern technology, enforcing information-sharing within law enforcement, focusing on violent repeat offenders and efforts to put more patrol officers on the streets to address crime hot spots.  

Despite this sharp decline in the overall murder rate, a review of 2,300 murders from 2000 to 2011 revealed that approximately 30% of those murders resulted in a conviction for murder or manslaughter charges with 70% remaining unsolved.  For the period of 2000 through 2006, under the regime of former DC MPD Police Chief Charles Ramsey, 29% of murders resulted in convictions for homicide or manslaughter.  In contrast, from 2007 to 2009, under the current Police Chief Cathy Lanier, 35% of all murders have resulted in convictions.  Further analysis indicates that as cases from 2009 and beyond are adjudicated, that rate will continue to rise.

United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen, commented on the Post story and prefers a different method for analyzing murder statistics in the District.  Machen stated that instead of measuring the conviction rate by comparing the total number of murders to the number of convictions, his office measures the conviction rate based upon the number of peopled indicted by a grand jury who ultimately plead or are found guilty at trial.  Last year, 70 individuals were convicted of murder or manslaughter and 21 others were acquitted at trial or had their cases dismissed, which equates to roughly a 75% conviction rate based upon Machen's method of analysis.  Although Machen's analysis is a fair method for determining the performance of how well his office prosecutes murder cases, it fails to account for the overarching problem with murders in the nation's capital, that a huge majority of them go unsolved.  

The Post article provides a number of other interesting statistics related to murders in DC.  Arrest rates, dismissal rates and conviction rates by motive are all discussed.  The article also discusses some advanced metrics for analyzing murders in DC.  One of those advanced metrics is the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting ("UCR") Program which compares the number of murders that occur in the city with the number of homicides closed that year by law enforcement, regardless of the year the murder occurred.  Cases can be closed with an arrest or administratively without an arrest, including instances in which the suspect is dead or already incarcerated.  In the past decade the UCR closure rate has increased from 49% in 2001 to 94% in 2011.

As a Washington, DC assault and violent crimes attorney, I have seen first hand that violent crime in DC has declined.  Law enforcement has done a tremendous job of preventing violent crime from occurring.  However, it is troubling that 70% of murders between 2000-2011 have gone unsolved.  This is the type of statistic that keeps you up at night worrying about the safety of you and your loved ones.  Based on the analysis in the Post, it seems that things are improving, however, they still have a long way to go, 70% of murders going unsolved is simply unacceptable.

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