Chicago Police Homicide Clearance Rates

The Chicago Police Department considers a homicide cleared once they make an arrest for the crime.

Correction:  Police departments in general consider a case cleared once an arrest is made.  This is not unique to the Chicago Police Department.

A recent report from Annie Sweeney in the Sun-Times details a statistic that Phil Cline never held a press conference to brag about the homicide clearance rates. According to the reporting in the Sun-Times the clearance rates for the last two years are around 37%. The media has missed the boat when it comes to reporting on this issue. With all the talk about improvements in crime rates little attention has been paid to the homicide clearance rates. The homicide clearance rate number is tricky because it does not really reflect everything people believe it does.

  1. For a clearance to be reflected in the numbers it must be solved within the calendar year it occurred. For many of the murders that occur early in the year this is not a problem because there are several months for the murder to be solved and counted. For murders that occur late in the year it is much harder for the murder to be solved prior to the calendar year expiring. Thus, just looking at this sterile number is not going to provide the information needed to reliably judge the effectiveness of the CPD’s crime solving ability.
  2. A clearance does not necessarily translate into a conviction. The reporting by the media and the propaganda by the criminal justice agencies glance over this fallacy. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office fails to capture data about how many of the clearances that come from the CPD result in convictions. This number would allow us greater understanding of the likelihood of an individual being incarcerated for a murder he or she commits in Chicago.
  3. Wrongful convictions have plagued the Chicago Police Department and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. When numbers like the homicide clearance rates are reported out of context, political pressure falls upon the police. This is fertile soil for a wrongful conviction to be spawned. Pressure on the police to hit numbers is the antithesis to good policing. This pressure motivates officers to take short cuts and engage in actions that result in wrongful convictions. The issues surrounding the homicide clearance rates demonstrates yet another prime example of why all the criminal justice agencies in Chicago need to get more transparent.

CJP’s main goal is to increase the public’s access to criminal justice related information. This includes data from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is required to adequately assess the data generated from the CPD. Our discourse on issues involved in the administration of criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County is muted by the lack of access to the necessary data. Maybe Chicagoans would be satisfied with a clearance rate lower than we have if they felt like the bulk of the CPD’s efforts were being put towards deterring crime. That discussion cannot be had with the current lack of access to information that exists in Chicago and Cook County. Currently we have no idea how many of the arrests for murder actually result in convictions. Why? Because the political will to collect this data has been lacking within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Collecting data on the operations of your own office can only serve the ends of reformers and policy makers, not purveyors of the status quo. This reality of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office as being a data black whole must change or any steps to move the system forward would be a waste of time.

Author: Tracy Siska

Tracy Siska is the Founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project.
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