Webinar presenters Thomas Hargrove and Eric Witzig from the Murder Accountability Project answered a number of your questions after their presentation, "How the Murder Accountability Project Can Help Justice Professionals Work Cases." Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Why do some states not report their data? Conversely, why do some states only report their data to you?
Eric Witzig: There actually was a furlough in UCR reporting in the 90’s. We don't know why. Several major cities stopped recording data, in most cases, they resumed. There were many questions asked by politicians and by journalists in the local community why did you stop? In most cases, they resumed. In the case of Illinois, they only report the body count of… (audio muted from 58:15 to 59:00) …What happens when you keep your eyes wide shut and you no longer track how often homicide is cleared, nothing good happens. That certainly did not happen in Illinois, no one was aware of how bad the homicide clearances are getting so the public was… (audio muted from 59:15-59:45) …We will take data and we can convince them to report it to the FBI. There are other states with a problem. Most murders go unreported in Mississippi. There is nobody for us to sue because nobody has been tasked legally with the tasked of assembling crime data. There has been a bill proposed in Mississippi to allow the state troopers to allow to collect that information. Mississippi is going to be a problem. We're not quite sure why it happened, it's quite a real problem, it continues to be a real problem.
Audience Question: Do agencies clear cases with any arrest. For example, the driver of the getaway car but not necessarily the shooter? How does that factor into a clearance… (audio muted from 1:00:45 – 1:01:15)
Eric Witzig: I spoke to the captain in charge of homicide and his first question is where did you get those numbers? Well, from you sir. They were reported to the state… (audio muted from 1:01:30 to 1:02:00) …He gave me, he was furious, ouch, sorry didn't mean to ask that question. Therein lies that discrepancy although the guidelines were set out for the supplemental… (audio muted 1:02:15 – 1:02:45)
Thomas Hargrove: …It depends on the reporting agency… (audio muted 1:02:48 to 1:02:51)
Audience Question: How long does the investigation last before an investigation ends and is labeled as unsolved or unsolvable?
Eric Witzig: Reminds me of my very first homicide. I remember working through midnights and there one came out around one o'clock in the morning for the shoot… (audio muted 1:03:15 to 1:03:30) …It happened in January so the case was cleared before the reporting of the calendar year. Supposed it happened on June, seven months to clear it, okay that would have been reported as unsolved at the end of the year. When in fact was it was actually cleared and it goes back to what Thom said a little earlier, always check to make sure whether the case is cleared or not to the reporting agency. I think the answer to your question is that it's a matter of policy for the respective agency as to what they declare as an unclearable case. I just want to give an example which I think is a brilliant piece of work, I give credit to the department who's responsible for it. It was the Fairfax Police County Department here in Northern Virginia. It was a homicide stabbing, the 19-year old victim. The police did a meticulous crime scene… (audio muted 1:04:30 – 1:04:45) …And started to ringing, because there was a match to someone who was just arrested and who's DNA went into the database. That case could've been declared un-closable but DNA… (audio muted 1:05:00- 1:05:30)
Audience Question: What additional resources, as you look across the landscape of different agencies, what are the additional sources that seem to be critical factors?
Eric Witzig: Excellent question. In fact, Thomas and I have been thinking about this in the past year. Almost three decades ago, I formed a hypothesis that a homicide detective can only handle so many cases for a calendar year. I thought one a month was a little high. I think recent studies into this show that about 4.5 cases per detective per year is the maximum, doable number. With regard to a particular police department, the diagnosis of what they need depends on the department. For some it's people, for some it's training, for some, it's resources for the laboratories such as DNA and ballistics and I know that you are going to have a webinar in a week, a week and a half on that topic. I wouldn't want to make a blanket prescription for each police department, we would have to go in and study that department individually.
Thomas Hargrove: In the case of what happened to Santa Ana, California, Chief Walker said that one of the real problems they're having is the backlog of the state lab in Sacramento, that if you ship a bullet out for ballistics analysis, it could take two or three years to get a bullet back. That's a nightmare for homicide detectives. You cannot wait for lab results for that length of time, that was one of the things that he had to change. He had to retool so that he had in-house ballistics technician which also gave him something to trade. I mean he had a ballistics guy who is available for other police departments. It is a real problem. It is scary how many resources the police don't have of all sorts. Certainly, there's a backlog in lab and other forensics expertise in many states. Certainly, there's a manpower shortage in many Police Departments. In the case of Cleveland, it's nightmarish that they only have 13 homicide investigators for a city the size of Cleveland. They need more. It is unfair what we ask homicide detectives to do in terms of the caseload they have to bear and the personnel available to them.
Audience Question: Do you have recommendations on how we can make our local politicians and media more aware of local clearance rates?
Eric Witzig: Absolutely, use the MAP murder site to get the numbers. The numbers tell the facts. Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police can present those to their overarching administrators and let them know, this is what we need to get the job done.
Thomas Hargrove: In fact, we're hoping that the clearance data become a political force… (audio muted 1:09:30 – 1:09:45) …It doesn't have to be this way, in fact, that's one of our mantras. It doesn't have to be this way with murder. We have a very high homicide rate in the United States compared to other western nations. It doesn't have to be this way. We would like to see America… (audio muted 1:10:00 – 1:10:15)
Audience Question: Have you shared this information with the International Association of Crime Analysts and the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts, possibly even the Homicide Convention, thoughts?
Eric Witzig: We have done some of those things, we are a volunteer organization… (audio muted 1:10:45 – 1:11:00) …We have presented before the International Homicide Investigators Association, we've presented before the International Criminal Investigative Analysis Fellowship which is an organization of criminal personality profilers and analysts. We have not presented to the other two that you first mentioned. We would like to do so. I received an invitation to attend the Homicide Investigators of Texas presentation conference that’s coming up I think March next year. I had inquired to them and say, “Hey, I would like to make a presentation to you.” Bottom line is yes, we will go and make this presentation to whoever would like to… (audio muted 1:11:45-1:12:00) …www.murderdata.org. Yes, we need to get out more, there's no question about it. We would like to do that as much as our time and finances will allow.
Thomas Hargrove: Also, we have never said no to a request from Law Enforcement. Whenever a group asks us to appear, we’ve done it. We also appeared before the Southeast homicide investigators, the mid-Atlantic cold case investigators. We've never said no and we hope never to say no, so if any of our listeners have a group that they would like us to appear to, please let us know. We're going to try to say yes to every request you make.
Eric: Not only does that include Homicide investigators and managers. we'll also talk to a city council and the mayor because we can't be fired…. (audio issue, dead air 1:13:00 – 1:13:30)
Thomas Hargrove: If you are an experienced investigator, we could certainly use you as a resource for us and we frankly need a homicide investigator or somebody (audio issue, dead air 1:13:45 – 1:14:00) …On it whenever we can. We are all volunteers. Nobody on the Murder Accountability Project is paid. Unfortunately, we can offer no salary to anybody but we would appreciate offers of help any of your listeners want to give us.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of "How the Murder Accountability Project Can Help Justice Professionals Work Cases."