While it has the highest homicide rate out of the top-10 most-populated U.S. cities, Philadelphia’s homicide clearance rate has been decreasing for at least three years.
The city’s homicide clearance rate — the rate at which its homicide cases are resolved — is lower than ever at 60.1 percent. Its clearance rate was at 69.6 percent in 2010 and at 76 percent in 2009.
Nonetheless, in 2011, no murders occurred within the Penn Patrol Zone, which ranges from Baltimore Avenue to Market Street and 43rd street to the Schuykill River.
The city’s homicide clearance trend may be due in part to an increase in non-acquaintance homicides. Acquaintance homicides — cases where those involved are affiliated in some manner — contribute to a higher clearance rate since the motives and culprits are easier to identify.
Last week, an elderly man and middle-aged woman were found with slit throats and multiple stab wounds in separate rooms of an apartment. Two tortured dogs were also found dead on the scene. Only three days after the attack, police identified the murder suspect as 31-year-old Omar Johnson — an acquaintance of the female victim — with the help of neighbor tips.
However, “the nature of the homicides in Philadelphia are now of a more impersonal nature,” 27th Ward Committeeman Brian Villa said. “There are homicides over drugs, and there are conflicts of perceived slights,” which makes the search for criminals much more difficult.
While police have arrested three suspects in the Kevin Kless incident — wherein a Temple University graduate eventually died after three attackers who jumped out of a car beat him outside of the Second Bank of the United States — many are still skeptical whether the right people were arrested. The Fraternal Order of Police, Citizens Crime Commission and the City of Philadelphia had offered a total of $20,000 as a reward for information on the assailants.
“Since the homicide involved strangers, I think they’re having a tough time finding the criminal,” Villa said last week before the suspects were in custody. “They’ve asked for video footage but they haven’t gone public with the particulars of that. Also, the reward for the perpetrators has gone up. This leads me to the inference that there aren’t sufficient leads.”
Even having witnesses at the scene of the crime — which isn’t often the case since many of these interpersonal disputes occur in secluded areas, according to Villa — can’t guarantee a lower homicide clearance rate.
“You need to have witnesses who would come forward. But there’s witness intimidation and witness reluctance to come forward,” Villa said. “Sometimes the District Attorney’s office doesn’t have the money to protect the witnesses who come forward. The witness intimidation statute only provides so much.”
And although clearance rates depend on each individual criminal department’s method of calculation, the same multiple factors can contribute to a low homicide clearance rate. Public disinterest and lack of coverage for a specific case can play a large role, as do long police response times.
“How quickly do [police] get there? Do they start asking people in the environment what they had seen, heard and what they know?” Villa said. “When you have strangers killing each other, there’s a motive issue. If you have motives between known people, it’s a lot easier to figure out. If it’s a slight, you may have an idea why but you’re lacking a strong reason.”
This article has been changed from a prior version to update the status of the Kless case.
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