A couple of decades ago — the last time the city saw so much killing — Baltimore’s homicide unit closed more than 70 percent of its cases. Veterans talk of returning to the office from a crime scene to find a fistful of tips waiting for them. [Former Commissioner Thomas Frazier broke up that homicide squad to increase diversity in its ranks. He accomplished his goal; the homicide clearance rate plummeted.]You want cause and effect between politicians' rhetoric, a narrative that says police can't be trusted, and less trust in police? There you go. And prosecutors are spending their precious resources putting six cops on trial. It's all just the perfect shit storm. And as a result people are literally getting away with murder. There is no justice and indeed, no peace.
But the widening gulf between police and the community since then has made witness cooperation a rarity.
Forensic science has advanced, and surveillance cameras have grown common in the city. But detectives say witnesses remain the most important element in successfully bringing charges against a suspect.
The challenges are not exclusive to Baltimore, but are being felt here more acutely. Among similar-sized cities in 2014, the average for cases closed — through arrest or other means, such as the death of the suspect — was 56 percent.
In Baltimore, it was 45 percent. This year, it has fallen to 31 percent.
Detectives say they have suspects in as many as three-quarters of cases, but in many instances they lack the evidence to move forward or can’t convince prosecutors, who in recent years have wielded more authority over detectives’ ability to charge.
December 26, 2015
The "Freddie Gray Era"
Justin Fenton on solving homicides in the Sun: