Crime & Justice

How many crimes do your police 'clear'? Now you can find out

Detective Mark Williams (right) speaks with an officer in Richmond, Va. A decade ago, amid a surge in violent crime, Richmond police were identifying relatively few murder suspects. So the police department refocused its efforts to bring up its
Detective Mark Williams (right) speaks with an officer in Richmond, Va. A decade ago, amid a surge in violent crime, Richmond police were identifying relatively few murder suspects. So the police department refocused its efforts to bring up its "clearance rate."
Alex Matzke for NPR

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That's the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don't even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That's what police call "clearing" a crime; the "clearance rate" is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it's far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford says police have shifted priorities over the decades.

"In the '60s and '70s, no one thought that the police should be held responsible for how much crime there was," Wellford says. Back then, he adds, police focused on calls for service and solving crimes.

In more recent years, he says, police have been pushed to focus more on prevention, which has taken precedence over solving crimes — especially non-violent offenses.

In short, the falling crime rate we've enjoyed may come at a cost: police indifference when you report your stereo was stolen.

You can search the NPR database here.

The FBI collects clearance statistics for its annual "Uniform Crime Report," but it doesn't break those numbers down by jurisdiction. That makes it hard for people to compare local police departments' clearance rates, or track them over time.

So NPR asked the FBI for the local numbers, and the result is the tool above. Now you can look up the clearance rates of most local law enforcement agencies, for three years running.

A few things to keep in mind:

Bookmark this page for future reference, because we plan to ask the FBI for the 2014 clearance rates, when those become available.

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