Police are struggling to solve murders as homicides rise and the Covid-19 pandemic creates new challenges to cracking cases.
Homicides were up nearly 40% for the country’s 10 largest police departments in the first 11 months of 2020 compared to the same period last year. The clearance rate at nine departments that provided data was down by an average of 7 percentage points to about 59%.
The sudden rise of homicides across the country, a reversal after a general decline in the nationwide murder rate since the early 1990s, has overwhelmed detectives, some police officials say. Among other factors, Covid-19 has complicated face-to-face interviews and made it easier for masked suspects to elude capture.
Moreover, in some communities, trust in police has fallen amid nationwide protests over policing, making witnesses more reluctant to cooperate, some police officials say.
“When you put the civil unrest plus the Covid, I just felt unfortunately 2020 was a perfect storm,” said Brendan Deenihan, chief of detectives at the Chicago Police Department.
“When you put the civil unrest plus the Covid … 2020 was a perfect storm.”
Homicides in Chicago are running 55% higher than last year, while the clearance rate has slipped 6 percentage points to 46%. Gang violence, a perennial problem in Chicago, is driving the increase, and those cases are difficult to crack due to a lack of cooperative witnesses, he said.
In Philadelphia, the ability to wear masks without arousing suspicion appears to have emboldened some criminals and helped them elude police, even when surveillance cameras capture video of their crimes, said Benjamin Naish, the city’s deputy police commissioner for investigations, who oversees the homicide unit.
“If the person has their mask on and their hood up, it’s just that much harder to identify who that person is,” he said.