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Kansas Police Set to Clear Every Homicide Case in 2003

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- For the first time since 1984, the city's police department was on the verge Wednesday of ending its year with a clearance of every homicide case of the past year.

Of Wichita's 21 homicide cases in 2003, prosecutors determined three of the killings were justified and two were murder-suicides. Police cleared the rest of the homicides with an arrest.

"We're not going to celebrate" because 21 people died violently, said police Capt. Nelson Mosley. "But we're proud of the good work that goes into solving these."

A 100 percent homicide clearance rate is rare. Of the 13,561 homicides nationwide reported to the FBI in 2002, authorities cleared 64 percent with arrests. Over the past six years, the clearance rate in Wichita has ranged from 71 percent in 2001 to 96 percent in 1999.

"It's very unusual to have a 100 percent clearance rate in a large city," said Charles Wellford, a University of Maryland criminology professor who helped conduct a national study on homicide clearance rates.

Wellford said about one-third of Wichita's homicides in 2003 were gang- or drug-related, which are difficult to solve because people in those kinds of killings often fear retaliation and refuse to cooperate with police.

Mosley, a former homicide detective who now supervises violent-crime investigations, attributed the success to a variety of factors, including hard work, teamwork, good luck and an experienced homicide unit.

The department has seven detectives and a lieutenant who concentrate on homicides, Mosley said. On average, the detectives have more than six years of experience working homicide cases.

Every homicide case has a lead detective and information about the case funnels through that detective, who also sits in court with the prosecutor once the case goes to trial.

Still, Mosley said, the homicide team depends on help from others, including detectives from other units, crime scene investigators and other officers.

"Those seven (detectives) can't track down every lead," Mosley said. "It's got to be a team effort."

Although clearing a homicide through an arrest doesn't guarantee that a suspect will be convicted, it's a crucial step in seeking justice, Williams said.

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