1932

Abstract

In 1962, the FBI reported a national homicide clearance rate of 93%. That rate dropped 29 points by 1994. This Great Decline has been studied and accepted as a real phenomenon but remains mysterious, as does the period of relative stability that followed. The decline was shared across regions and all city sizes but differed greatly among categories defined by victim race and weapon type. Gun homicides with Black victims accounted for most of the decline. We review the evidence on several possible explanations for the national decline, including those pertaining to case mix, investigation resources, and citizen cooperation. Our preferred explanation includes an upward trend in the standard for arrest, with strong evidence that although clearance-by-arrest rates declined, the likelihood of conviction and prison sentence actually increased. That result has obvious implications for the history of policing practice and for the validity of the usual clearance rate as a police performance measure.

Loading

Article metrics loading...

/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-criminol-022422-122744
2024-01-26
2024-04-22
Loading full text...

Full text loading...

/deliver/fulltext/criminol/7/1/annurev-criminol-022422-122744.html?itemId=/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-criminol-022422-122744&mimeType=html&fmt=ahah

Literature Cited

  1. Alderden MA, Lavery TA. 2007. Predicting homicide clearances in Chicago: investigating disparities in predictors across different types of homicide. Homicide Stud. 11:211532
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Altholz R. 2020. Living with impunity: unsolved murders in Oakland and the human rights impact on victims’ family members Berkeley, CA: Univ. Cal. Berkeley Sch. Law https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Living-with-Impunity.pdf
  3. Anderson E 1999. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City New York: Norton
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Asher J. 2021. What improves the chances of solving a murder?. New York Times July 23. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/upshot/murder-crime-solving.html
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Asher J, Horwitz B. 2020. How do the police actually spend their time?. New York Times June 19. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/upshot/unrest-police-time-violent-crime.html
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Avdija AS, Gallagher C, Woods DD. 2022. Homicide clearance rates in the United States, 1976–2017. Violence Vict. 37:10115
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Baughman SB. 2020. How effective are police? The problem of clearance rates and criminal accountability. Ala. Law Rev. 72:47130
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Baumer EP, Wolff KT. 2014. Evaluating contemporary crime drop(s) in America, New York City, and many other places. Justice Q. 31:538
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Bjerk D. 2022. Does greater police funding help catch more murderers?. J. Empir. Leg. Stud. 19:352859
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Black D. 1976. The Behavior of Law Cambridge, MA: Academic Press
  11. Black D. 1983. Crime as social control. Am. Sociol. Rev. 48:3445
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Block CR, Block RL, Ill. Crim. Justice Inf. Auth 2005. Homicides in Chicago, 1965–1995 Rep. Inter-Univ. Consort. Political Soc. Res. Ann Arbor, MI: https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/web/NACJD/studies/6399/versions/V5
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Borg MJ, Parker KF. 2001. Mobilizing law in urban areas: the social structure of homicide clearance rates. Law Soc. Rev. 35:243566
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Braga AA, Cook PJ. 2018. The association of firearm caliber with likelihood of death from gunshot injury in criminal assaults. JAMA Netw. Open 1:3e180833
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Braga AA, Dusseault D. 2018. Can homicide detectives improve homicide clearance rates?. Crime Delinquency 64:3283315
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Braga AA, Turchan B, Barao L. 2019. The influence of investigative resources on homicide clearances. J. Quant. Criminol. 35:233764
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Brunson RK. 2020. Protests focus on over-policing. But under-policing is also deadly. Washington Post June 12. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/underpolicing-cities-violent-crime/2020/06/12/b5d1fd26-ac0c-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Brunson RK, Wade BA. 2019. Oh hell no, we don't talk to police. Criminol. Public Policy 18:362348
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Butler PD. 2013. Poor people lose: Gideon and the critique of rights. Yale Law J. 122:82176204
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Cassell PG, Fowles R. 1998. Handcuffing the cops? A thirty year perspective on Miranda's effects on law enforcement. Stanf. Law Rev. 50:41055145
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Cassell PG, Fowles R. 2017. Still handcuffing the cops? A review of fifty years of empirical evidence of Miranda's harmful effects on law enforcement. Boston Univ. Law Rev. 97:685848
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Chaiken JM, Greenwood PW, Petersilia J. 1977. The criminal investigation process: a summary report. Policy Anal. 3:2187217
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Chalfin A, McCrary J. 2018. Are U.S. cities underpoliced? Theory and evidence. Rev. Econ. Stat. 100:16786
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Chamlin MB. 1991. A longitudinal analysis of the arrest-crime relationship: a further examination of the tipping effect. Justice Q. 8:218799
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Cook PJ. 1979. The clearance rate as a measure of criminal justice system effectiveness. J. Public Econ. 11:13542
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Cook PJ. 1980. Research in criminal deterrence: laying the groundwork for the second decade. Crime Justice 2:21168
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Cook PJ. 2011. Coproduction in deterring crime. Criminol. Public Policy 10:1038
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Cook PJ, Braga AA, Turchan BS, Barao LM. 2019. Why do gun murders have a higher clearance rate than gunshot assaults?. Criminol. Public Policy 18:352551
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Cook PJ, Ho J, Shilling S. 2017. Criminal Investigations of Gun Assaults and Murders in Durham, 2015: The Challenge of Securing Victim and Witness Cooperation Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Sanford Sch. Public Policy
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Cook PJ, Lopez J. 2023. Explaining the extraordinary decline in Chicago's homicide arrest rates, 1965–2020. J. Contemp. Crim. Justice. In press
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Cook PJ, Ludwig J. 2022. Gun violence is THE crime problem. Vital City March 2. https://www.vitalcitynyc.org/articles/gun-violence-is-the-crime-problem
    [Google Scholar]
  32. Corsianos M. 2003. Discretion in detectives’ decision making and “high profile” cases. Police Pract. Res. Int. J. 4:330114
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Daly M. 2023. Inequality, grievances, and the variability in homicide rates. Evol. Hum. Behav. 44:3296304
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Davies HJ. 2007. Understanding variations in murder clearance rates: the influence of the political environment. Homicide Stud. 11:213350
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Davis RC. 1983. Victim/witness noncooperation: a second look at a persistent phenomenon. J. Crim. Justice 11:428799
    [Google Scholar]
  36. DeFrances CJ. 2001. State-funded indigent defense services, 1999 Bur. Justice Stat. Rep. NCJ 188464 Off. Justice Progr. Washington, DC: https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/sfids99.pdf
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Desmond M, Papachristos AV, Kirk DS. 2016. Police violence and citizen crime reporting in the black community. Am. Sociol. Rev. 81:585776
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Desmond M, Papachristos AV, Kirk DS. 2020. Evidence of the effect of police violence on citizen crime reporting. Am. Sociol. Rev. 85:18490
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Donohue J. 1998. Did Miranda diminish police effectiveness?. Stanf. Law Rev. 50:114780
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Eck J 1992. Criminal investigation. What Works in Policing? Operations and Administration Examined G Cordner, D Hale 1934. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Ekins E. 2016. Policing in America: understanding public attitudes toward the police Rep. Cato Inst. Washington, DC: https://www.cato.org/survey-reports/policing-america-understanding-public-attitudes-toward-police-results-national
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Ericson RV. 1982. Reproducing Order: A Study of Police Patrol Work Toronto: Univ. Toronto Press
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Fagan J, Geller A. 2018. Police, race, and the production of capital homicides. Berkeley J. Crim. Law 23:261313
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Farrell G, Tseloni A, Mailley J, Tilley N. 2011. The crime drop and the security hypothesis. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 48:214775
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Fed. Bur. Investig 2020. Crime in the U.S. 2019 Rep. FBI Washington, DC: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019
  46. Fox JA. 2022. Multiply-Imputed Supplementary Homicide Reports file, 1976–2020. Boston: Northeastern Univ.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 1963.)
  48. Goodison SE. 2021. The role of detective experience on homicide clearances. Polic. Int. J. 44:454859
    [Google Scholar]
  49. Greenwood PW. 1979. Rand criminal investigation study: its findings and impacts to date. Rep. NCJ 70272 Off. Justice Progr. Washington, DC:
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Hargrove TG. 2019. Black homicide victims accounted for all of America's declining clearance rates Rep. Murd. Account. Proj. Alexandria, VA: https://www.murderdata.org/2019/02/black-murders-account-for-all-of.html
  51. Hawk SR. 2015. A multi-method examination of homicide investigations on case outcomes PhD Diss. Georgia State Univ. Atlanta, GA:
  52. Hawk SR, Dabney DA. 2014. Are all cases treated equal?: using Goffman's frame analysis to understand how homicide detectives orient to their work. Br. J. Criminol. 54:6112947
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Hayes RM, Levett LM. 2013. Community members’ perceptions of the CSI effect. Am. J. Crim. Justice 38:221635
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Hindelang MJ. 1974. Public opinion regarding crime, criminal justice, and related topics. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 11:10116
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Jarvis JP, Mancik A, Regoeczi WC. 2017. Police responses to violent crime: reconsidering the mobilization of law. Crim. Justice Rev. 42:525
    [Google Scholar]
  56. Jiao AY. 2007. Explaining homicide clearance: an analysis of Chicago homicide data 1965–95. Crim. Justice Stud. 20:314
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Jones JM. 2021. In U.S., Black confidence in police recovers from 2020 low. Gallup July 14. https://news.gallup.com/poll/352304/black-confidence-police-recovers-2020-low.aspx
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Keel TG, Jarvis JP, Muirhead YE. 2009. An exploratory analysis of factors affecting homicide investigations: examining the dynamics of murder clearance rates. Homicide Stud. 13:5068
    [Google Scholar]
  59. Kirk DS, Matsuda M. 2011. Legal cynicism, collective efficacy, and the ecology of arrest. Criminology 49:244372
    [Google Scholar]
  60. Knepper P. 2012. An international crime decline: lessons for social welfare crime policy?. Soc. Policy Adm. 46:435976
    [Google Scholar]
  61. Korosec L. 2012. The changing nature of homicide and its impact on homicide clearance rates: a quantitative analysis of two trends from 1984–2009. Master's Thesis Univ. West. Ont. London, Ont: https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1753&context=etd
    [Google Scholar]
  62. Lee YH, Cho S. 2021. The different crime solving styles of police agencies across the United States: a latent class analysis of criminal investigation goals. Am. J. Crim. Justice 46:3496527
    [Google Scholar]
  63. Leovy J. 2015. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America New York: Spiegel & Grau. , 1st ed..
    [Google Scholar]
  64. Lieberman JD, Carrell CA, Miethe TD, Krauss DA. 2008. Gold versus platinum: Do jurors recognize the superiority and limitations of DNA evidence compared to other types of forensic evidence?. Psychol. Public Policy Law 14:2762
    [Google Scholar]
  65. Liem M, Suonpää K, Lehti M, Kivivuori J, Granath S et al. 2019. Homicide clearance in Western Europe. Eur. J. Criminol. 16:81101
    [Google Scholar]
  66. Liska AE, Chamlin MB, Reed MD. 1985. Testing the economic production and conflict models of crime control. Soc. Forces 64:11938
    [Google Scholar]
  67. Litwin KJ, Xu Y. 2007. The dynamic nature of homicide clearances: a multilevel model comparison of three time periods. Homicide Stud. 11:294114
    [Google Scholar]
  68. Lum C, Koper C, Prince H. 2022. Building evidence for effective investigations: a collaborative workshop to identify research needs. Rep. Cent. Evid.-Based Crime Policy Fairfax, VA:
    [Google Scholar]
  69. Lum C, Nagin DS. 2017. Reinventing American policing. Crime Justice 46:33993
    [Google Scholar]
  70. Lundman RJ, Myers M. 2012. Explanations of homicide clearances: Do results vary dependent upon operationalization and initial (time 1) and updated (time 2) data?. Homicide Stud. 16:2340
    [Google Scholar]
  71. Mancik AM, Parker KF. 2019. Homicide clearances during pre- and post-U.S. crime drop eras: the role of structural predictors and demographic shifts, 1976–2015. Crime Justice 42:323756
    [Google Scholar]
  72. Mancik AM, Parker KF, Williams KR. 2018. Neighborhood context and homicide clearance: estimating the effects of collective efficacy. Homicide Stud. 22:2188213
    [Google Scholar]
  73. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 1961.)
  74. McEwen T, Regoeczi W. 2015. Forensic evidence in homicide investigations and prosecutions. J. Forensic Sci. 60:5118898
    [Google Scholar]
  75. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 1966.)
  76. Nagin DS. 2013. Deterrence: a review of the evidence by a criminologist for economists. Annu. Rev. Econ. 5:83105
    [Google Scholar]
  77. Nagin DS, Solow RM, Lum C. 2015. Deterrence, criminal opportunities, and police. Criminology 53:74100
    [Google Scholar]
  78. Ousey GC, Lee MR. 2008. Racial disparity in formal social control: an investigation of alternative explanations of arrest rate inequality. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 45:332255
    [Google Scholar]
  79. Ousey GC, Lee MR. 2010. To know the unknown: the decline in homicide clearance rates, 1980—2000. Crim. Justice Rev. 35:214158
    [Google Scholar]
  80. Police Executive Res. Forum 2019. Review of the Chicago police department's homicide investigation process: observations and recommendations Rep. IAPA Chicago: https://home.chicagopolice.org/homicideclearancereport2019/
    [Google Scholar]
  81. Prince H, Lum C, Koper CS. 2021. Effective police investigative practices: an evidence-assessment of the research. Polic. Int. J. 44:4683707
    [Google Scholar]
  82. Puckett JL, Lundman RJ. 2003. Factors affecting homicide clearances: multivariate analysis of a more complete conceptual framework. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 40:217193
    [Google Scholar]
  83. Rand MR, Lynch JP, Cantor D. 1997. Criminal victimization, 1973–1995 Bur. Justice Stat. Rep. NCJ 163069 Off. Justice Progr. Washington, DC: https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/Cv73_95.pdf
    [Google Scholar]
  84. Raphael S, Stoll MA. 2013. Why Are So Many Americans in Prison? New York: Russell Sage Found.
  85. Regoeczi WC, Banks D. 2014. The nation's two measures of homicide. Bur. Justice Stat. Rep. NCJ 247060 Off. Justice Progr. Washington, DC: https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/ntmh.pdf
  86. Regoeczi WC, Jarvis JP. 2013. Beyond the social production of homicide rates: extending social disorganization theory to explain homicide case outcomes. Justice Q. 30:69831014
    [Google Scholar]
  87. Regoeczi WC, Jarvis J, Mancik A. 2020. Homicide investigations in context: exploring explanations for the divergent impacts of victim race, gender, elderly victims, and firearms on homicide clearances. Homicide Stud. 24:2544
    [Google Scholar]
  88. Regoeczi WC, Jarvis J, Riedel M. 2008. Clearing murders: Is it about time?. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 45:214262
    [Google Scholar]
  89. Regoeczi WC, Kennedy LW, Silverman RA. 2000. Uncleared homicides: a Canada/United States comparison. Homicide Stud. 4:213561
    [Google Scholar]
  90. Reiss AJ. 1971. The Police and the Public New York: Yale Univ. Press
  91. Reiss AJ, Bordua DJ. 1967. Environment and organization: a perspective on the police. The Police: Six Sociological Essays D Bordua 2555. New York: John Wiley
    [Google Scholar]
  92. Rhineberger-Dunn G, Briggs SJ, Rader N. 2016. Clearing crime in prime-time: the disjuncture between fiction and reality. Am. J. Crim. Justice 41:225578
    [Google Scholar]
  93. Riedel M. 2008. Homicide arrest clearances: a review of the literature. Sociol. Compass 2:4114564
    [Google Scholar]
  94. Riedel M, Boulahanis JG. 2007. Homicides exceptionally cleared and cleared by arrest: an exploratory study of police/prosecutor outcomes. Homicide Stud. 11:215164
    [Google Scholar]
  95. Riedel M, Jarvis J 1999. The decline of arrest clearances for criminal homicide: causes, correlates, and third parties. Crim. Justice Policy Rev. 9:3279306
    [Google Scholar]
  96. Rios VM. 2011. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys New York: NYU Press
    [Google Scholar]
  97. Roberts A. 2007. Predictors of homicide clearance by arrest: an event history analysis of NIBRS incidents. Homicide Stud. 11:28293
    [Google Scholar]
  98. Roberts A. 2008. Explaining differences in homicide clearance rates between Japan and the United States. Homicide Stud. 12:13645
    [Google Scholar]
  99. Roberts A. 2015. Adjusting rates of homicide clearance by arrest for investigation difficulty: modeling incident- and jurisdiction-level obstacles. Homicide Stud. 19:3273300
    [Google Scholar]
  100. Roberts A, Roberts JM Jr. 2016. Crime clearance and temporal variation in police investigative workload: evidence from National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data. J. Quant. Criminol. 32:465174
    [Google Scholar]
  101. Roberts A, Roberts JM Jr. 2022. Clearing crimes in the aftermath of police lethal violence. Criminol. Public Policy 21:361948
    [Google Scholar]
  102. Schroeder DA, White MD. 2009. Exploring the use of DNA evidence in homicide investigations: implications for detective work and case clearance. Police Q. 12:331942
    [Google Scholar]
  103. Scott TL, Wellford C, Lum C, Vovak H. 2019. Variability of crime clearance among police agencies. Police Q. 22:82111
    [Google Scholar]
  104. Shelton DE. 2010. Juror expectations for scientific evidence in criminal cases: perceptions and reality about the “CSI effect” myth. Cooley Law Rev. 27:135
    [Google Scholar]
  105. Silverman RA, Kennedy LW. 1987. Relational distance and homicide: the role of the stranger. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 78:2272308
    [Google Scholar]
  106. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 1984.)
  107. Taylor TJ, Holleran D, Topalli V. 2009. Racial bias in case processing: Does victim race affect police clearance of violent crime incidents?. Justice Q. 26:356291
    [Google Scholar]
  108. Tittle CR, Rowe AR. 1974. Certainty of arrest and crime rates: a further test of the deterrence hypothesis. Soc. Forces 52:45562
    [Google Scholar]
  109. Travis J, Western B, Redburn S, eds. 2014. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences Washington, DC: Natl. Acad. Press
    [Google Scholar]
  110. Trussler T. 2010. Explaining the changing nature of homicide clearance rates in Canada. Int. Crim. Justice Rev. 20:436683
    [Google Scholar]
  111. Tseloni A, Mailley J, Farrell G, Tilley N. 2010. Exploring the international decline in crime rates. Eur. J. Criminol. 7:537594
    [Google Scholar]
  112. Vaughn PE. 2020. The effects of devaluation and solvability on crime clearance. J. Crim. Justice 68:101657
    [Google Scholar]
  113. Vaughn PE, Williams JH, Rosenfeld R, Deckard M. 2022. Minority victim neglect and the case processing of firearm crimes, victims and offenders. Vict. Offenders 18:6104669
    [Google Scholar]
  114. Wellford C, Cronin J. 2000. Clearing up homicide clearance rates. Natl. Inst. Justice J. 243:27
    [Google Scholar]
  115. Wellford C, Cronin J, Brandl S, Bynum T, Eversen T, Galeria S. 1999. An analysis of variables affecting the clearance of homicides: a multistate study Rep. Justice Res. Stat. Assoc. Washington, DC:
    [Google Scholar]
  116. Wellford CF, Lum C, Scott T, Vovak H, Scherer JA. 2019. Clearing homicides. Criminol. Public Policy 18:3553600
    [Google Scholar]
  117. White K, Cook PJ, Pollack HA. 2021. Gunshot-victim cooperation with police investigations: results from the Chicago Inmate Survey. Prev. Med. 143:106381
    [Google Scholar]
  118. Worrall JL. 2019. Investigative resources and crime clearances: a group-based trajectory approach. Crim. Justice Policy Rev. 30:215575
    [Google Scholar]
  119. Xu Y. 2008. Characteristics of homicide events and the decline in homicide clearance: a longitudinal approach to the dynamic relationship, Chicago 1966–1995. Crim. Justice Rev. 33:445379
    [Google Scholar]
  120. Zalman M, Smith BW. 2007. The attitudes of police executives toward Miranda and interrogation policies. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 97:3873942
    [Google Scholar]
/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-criminol-022422-122744
Loading
/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-criminol-022422-122744
Loading

Data & Media loading...

Supplemental Material

Supplementary Data

  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error