Only 36% of '06 Chicago murders solved

Annie Sweeney and Frank Main
The Chicago Sun-Times

The percentage of murders solved by Chicago Police fell for a second straight year in 2006 — in part because of changes in how detectives investigate homicides, officials said Tuesday.

The department cleared 36 percent of the murders committed last year, compared with 42 percent in 2005 and 47 percent in 2004.

"I would love it to be 100 percent," Chief of Detectives Maria Maher said. "I have to be realistic, and I have to be aware of what our detectives are dealing with today."

Detectives, for instance, are dealing with a 2005 state law that required them to start videotaping interrogations.

Now detectives have to factor how a videotaped interrogation will play to a jury, Maher said. Yelling at a suspect who's caught in a lie — while allowed — might not look good to a jury, she said. To prepare, detectives have been doing mock interrogations, Maher said.


Some detectives say another 2005 policy that requires detectives to tell witnesses they have the right to leave the police station hampers investigations even more.

"As soon as they realize they don't have to stay, they are out the door," one detective said.

Officials also noted that many of the department's 1,100 detectives have fewer than 10 years' experience, and there is a high turnover in some of the busiest areas of the city.

Other cities have also struggled to solve killings. Boston is hiring more detectives to improve on a 38 percent murder clearance rate for 2006. Two years ago, Los Angeles nearly doubled the number of homicide detectives in South Los Angeles and improved the murder clearance rate there.

While there are no plans to hire additional detectives here, Maher is sending cold case and gang intelligence officers to the Far South Side to help in the Calumet Area, which has the lowest clearance rate at 32 percent.


The Grand-Central Area on the Northwest Side — an area where homicides are dropping — posted the city's highest clearance rate at 49 percent.

Grand-Central Lt. Mark Hawkins said clearing a murder takes good work from the first cops arriving who have to protect a scene all the way up to the detectives who process evidence and do the interrogations.

"It's a credit to the detectives here," Hawkins said of the rate.

At least one seasoned detective pointed out that the citywide clearance rate for one year doesn't reflect the total number of murders cops are solving. Throughout all of 2006, 88 murders from prior years were solved, too.

"You can't go by 2006 alone," he said. "Homicides take time to clear. Our time is being balanced. We don't just work on 2006 cases."

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