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Unsolved Murder Rate in U.S. At Historic High in 'Backlogged' System

Murders in the U.S. are going unsolved at a historic pace, a CBS News investigation has found. A review of FBI statistics shows that the murder clearance rate — the share of cases that are solved, meaning police make an arrest or close the case due to other reasons — has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century. "It's a 50-50 coin flip," says Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project, which tracks unsolved murders nationwide. "It's never been this bad. During the last seven months of 2020, most murders went unsolved. That's never happened before in America." Police are far less likely to solve a murder when the victim is Black or Hispanic. In 2020, the murders of white victims were about 30 percent more likely to be solved than in cases with Hispanic victims, and about 50% more than when the victims were Black, the data show.

Police and criminal justice experts have offered a range of explanations. In Jackson, Ms., population 160,000, people, the police department responded to 153 murders in the past year but has just eight homicide detectives to work that caseload. FBI guidelines suggest homicide detectives should be covering no more than five cases at a time. Police Chief James Davis said his department needs more of everything to keep up with the violence. "The whole system is backlogged," Davis said. "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." Police are contending with a breakdown in trust between their officers and the communities they serve, a result of decades of tensions that spilled over during high-profile cases of police misconduct. That has made it harder for police to receive tips or obtain help from witnesses, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. She cited a history of "systemic inequities that contribute to the mistrust" in many communities most affected by crime.


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