Plain English with Derek Thompson - Why Are the Police So Bad at Solving Murders


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Today’s episode is in a way about the story of the moment.

There has been a surge of mass shootings, violent shootings, gun related murders not just this year but in the last few years crime and gun violence has become one of the top issues for Americans in this midterm election year and this episode is about a mystery behind that story.


It’s the mystery of why fewer and fewer of these murders are ever solved.

So according to FBI statistics, 60 years ago, in the 1960s, just about all murders were cleared by police cleared, typically means someone is arrested for the killing, but since then, since the 1960s in every single decade 70s, 80s 90s, the clearance rate has declined, the share of murders that police solve has fallen in every single decade for 60 years.


That is awfully strange.

A crime went way up in the second half of the 20th century and the clearance rate fell.

Then crime went down in the early 2000s and the clearance rate fell and now murders are rising again and the clearance rate just keeps going down.


It recently hit an all-time low in 2020 of nearly 50 percent.

I mean, put together these statistics 60 years ago, almost every murder ended in an arrest.

Add a half of murders in the u.s. go unsolved committing.


A murder today.

Basically it’s to a coin flip chance of getting arrested So today’s guest is Jeff Asher, Jeff is a crime analyst, a writer and the co-founder of aah data Linux an organization that analyzes data for local governments and agencies like police departments.


And as you’re about to hear, as bad as America is at solving murders, we might be even worse at collecting data on crime.

So why do the police seem to be so bad?

At this Central job solving murders?

Why does it seem like they’re getting worse with every passing decade?


And what might an answer do to point us to a solution?

I’m Derrick Thompson.

This is plain English.


Jeff Asher, welcome to the podcast.

Hi, thanks for having me so Jeff, I brought you on the show to solve a mystery and that mystery is why police seem to be so bad at solving murders and why statistically, speaking they seem to be getting worse at solving murders decade.


After decade, after decade, since the Is and the data point that we’re starting with is that every five to ten years, since the 1960s, with every passing five to 10 years, the national murder clearance rate has declined.

So let’s start with the methodology.


What is the clearance rate?

So when the FBI calculates clearance rate, what they’re doing is they’re saying they’re numerator.

Is what are the number of murders that were solved either by a rest?

Obviously we all know what a rest.


Means or by exception.

And that exception means is they’ve identified the murderer.

They’ve identified who they think did it but they for whatever reason they can’t arrest that person.

So it might be because it’s a murder-suicide, it might be because the person died a decade ago and and you’re solving a 15 year old murder and and there’s no, you know who did it.


But that person is long buried.

So that’s the numerator.

And it’s not just this year, it’s any year that the murder occurred the year that they make the Clearance.

So if they solve a 1968 murder in 2022, that counts as a 2022 clearance.


So you get some funky statistics sometimes where agencies will report regularly 150% murder clearance rate where they solved three murders but to occurred, which looks incredibly goofy.


But you’re saying, it’s just a function of the fact that clearance rates are calculated in the year when the arrest or exception is made.

So clearance rates are kind of like a police batting average.

They’re kind of like a very simple batting average but they just have these two exceptions and just to be clear the fact of the clearance rate has declined from like 90-95 percent in the 1960s to a significantly lower level.


Like in the 50 percentage Point level today that you would agree is a real Trend.


And that’s a very real Trend.

That’s a very real drop and we No reason to doubt that this trend exists.

That agencies are reporting fewer and fewer.

Murders being cleared each year.


So let’s get right into it.

Let’s talk about some of the reasons why this might be happening.

This start with a 1960s when the clearance rate was Sky High, when it seemed like practically every single murder was being solved by police agencies across the country was the clearance rate and the 1960s so high, because mid-century police were so incredibly good at their jobs or was it because of something else.


Like the fact that That these statistics were highly unreliable.

I think one of the certainties that everybody that studies this has is that you should not rely on the 1960s data and really much of the 1970s data for reliability.

It’s you’re getting 90 100 percent clearance rate in dozens or hundreds of cities that are reporting, lots of murders places that that probably aren’t solving it and because we know that they’re, they’re not, they’re saying what they’re clearing, but they’re not giving any more details on That there’s a lot of question marks about what exactly these numbers mean and just to be clear, are you saying the police the 1960s 1970s were therefore much more likely than today to be arresting people who were known to be innocent or very likely to be innocent?


Or is it because they were simply making up the statistics when reporting to the FBI.

Again, it’s hard to say with a ton of certainty, which of those answers it is.

But I think it’s probably both of them.

We know obviously in Ashley in the pre-miranda days.

Even today.

It’s a problem of in his of arresting people that that are innocent of the crime.


But even especially pre-miranda the 60s, 50s 40s.

Police departments had a lot less scrutiny on them.

It’s hard to say that what percentage of these are bad arrests and what percentage of them are bad exceptions.


But there’s likelihood so likely some combination that’s leading to the Majority of big cities reporting 90 100 percent clearance rates for 100, 150 murders in a year.

It’s just, it’s implausible that the numbers were as high, as they were in the 60s and the 70s.


And I think we’ve gotten several decades, a much lower clearance rates at a level that is much more believable.

I think that makes us even more certain that that those figures that were being reported in the 60s and the 70s or not that good.

So basically, one reason why this is happening is that Is that we are declining from a 60-year high.


That was basically a fabrication.

It was basically a lie.

It was either a lie because the police were obviously arresting, lots of innocent people or because they were wildly misrepresenting their statistics, the FBI, just one of those statistics I think this is from one of our conversations online.

It’s just unbelievable in the 1960s among agencies.


Dealing with more than 50 murders.

A third of them had clearance rates over the 90 percent in 2020.

Hero agencies dealing with 50, plus murders had a clearance rate over 90%.

So to put that in a sense, a different term in the 1960s, it was very common for agencies, dealing with lots of murders to basically solve all of their murders or at least claim to the FBI that they were solving all their murders today.


The number of agencies doing that is basically zero and you’re sort of first big statistical piece of evidence for, you know, what is happening?

Is look, that was a myth.

That was a lie.

We should not believe the 1960s 70s numbers.

That’s the most important place to start to move on to number two.


Something else happened in the mid-1960s that we absolutely have to talk about and that is the 1966 US Supreme Court case Miranda versus Arizona.

The Supreme Court says, in that case that the fifth amendment guarantees citizens certain rights.

When they’re being questioned by police, this creates the famous Norm of Miranda rights, which anybody’s ever watched a half second of Law and Order or any crime.


Procedural can tell you, you have the right to remain silent you anything you Or do will be can be used against you etc, etc.


How important is Miranda in helping to explain the declining clearance rate because police say had a higher standard in terms of arresting people and getting information from them when they do arrest them.


So it was clearly important and you can see that if you look at the years before Miranda, you’re talking, 92, 93, 94, 91, 90, 91 percent murder clearance rates, and then Every year after Miranda, you see, pretty much a 15 or 20 year decline in the nation’s murder clearance rates.


So it was clearly an important factor.

But also I think that if it was the only Factor you would have expected basically, you know, things to have fallen off a cliff and then fall into a really low level.

The fact that it was more of a gradual decline suggests that, it was a very good tool obviously, for improving the way that police.


When they’re going after people that they think did murders and improving the rights of people that may or may not be innocent, but it doesn’t seem like it was the only factor and it’s one of those things where we really wish we had data from the 50s and the 40’s and could go further back.


It’s plausible that there was just something weird in the water and the first couple of years in 1960 that led to this really high, artificially High murder clearance rate or it’s possible that Miranda was the biggest kick in the butt to get police departments to be more forthright and honest about who was being arrested and what murders were being cleared in in led to this gradual decline into what was the seventy.


Sixty percent range for murder.

Clearances for much of the last three decades.

I want to hold in this point because I think a lot of people in seeing the fact that police are solving fewer and fewer murders.

Every single decade will immediately jump to the conclusion.

Listen to say, oh, this means that police are getting worse and we’re going to get to that potential explanation as but a lot of people might jump immediately to the explanation that this is just because police are getting worse, this is purely bad.


But when you put explanations one and two together, it’s strongly suggest again that a lot of these mid-century convictions were completely false or attained by practices that many people today would regard as highly unethical, which means that the decline in the clearance rate partially, and I want to emphasize this Partially conceals an increase in police ethics.


Do you think that’s a fair explanation or a fair interpretation from explanations one?

And two, I think it’s certainly a fair assertion.

I think that when we talk about this problem, we really have to look at it in two ways.

One is the big 60 year decline in the clearance rate from the sixth 1960s and the other is the 20 or 30 year.


Decline from the In the 2000s that we’re currently experiencing.

And I think that when explaining the big 60 year decline, something changed in the 60s, in terms of how police departments were reporting, murder clearances.

And it matches up time-wise, where you see this sort of accelerated decline in terms of when Miranda came down.


And so, it certainly would make sense that Miranda required police to think more about who they were.

Sighing, as as culprits and how they were reporting clearances to the FBI.

Again, it’s hard to say, with 100%, confidence of that.


But it certainly does make sense in the timing does match up as far as a potential Factor there.


So let’s go onto explanation number 3 and here we get to maybe the real meat of your theory, explanation, number three, deals with guns.



How much of this is about guns.

Why would guns explain the decline in the clearance rate?

So, you know, usually when you’re doing these types of analysis the it’s the guns is often times a solid explanation for a lot of the problem, the guns doesn’t solve everything, but the share of murders that have been committed by Firearms, has steadily crept up at a nearly identical rate to over the last 40 years to how the percentage of murder clearance.


Isis has fallen.

So you’re basically seeing and again correlation does not equal causation but if you plot the two together, you see a very strong correlation the last 40 years between the percentage of murders that happened via firearm.


And for that we use the FBI’s supplementary homicide report data where they give us that share of fire of murders with firearm each year and the share of murders that are clear to each year.

And Last year in 2020, the last year that we have available data for 77 percent of murders were via firearm and 54% of murders were cleared in 1961.


It was 53% of murders, via a firearm and 93% of murders were cleared and we know that 93% is a little wonky and was probably off, but it was a much lower.

Share in say 1986.

T 2 percent of murders were via firearm and 72% of murders.


Were cleared.

So we’ve seen as the share of murders that are committed with Firearms, go up the share of these murders that are solved goes down and the reason is that firearm murders are much harder to solve.

You know why?

Well so you have often times fewer Witnesses you have there they take place from further away so you know most murders with a firearm, are not right next to each other.


If you’re stabbing somebody, you got to be right on them and so there’s more likely to Physical evidence there, your, you know, there’s more like they’d be screams or whatnot.

That’s going to be the clue people in on who the perpetrator is and there’s more likely to be stuff that the detectives can then look at and help to solve the murder.


And so as we see the, you know, beatings and drownings and knife based murders, go down and fire are murders Skyrocket.

It just each individual case makes it Harder on police, and there’s a great, a Los Angeles, detective LAPD retired detective.


Now, John Skaggs, who was the protagonist in ghetto side which is terrific book, about murder in Los Angeles, but really is about murder in any big American city and I interviewed him for a piece a couple of months ago.

And he talked about these what he calls roundball murders.


We’re basically roundball murders.

Yeah, grab bombers thing.

A baseball ground ball itself, solvers.

You the police walk in and they find the husband and the husband has the bloody knife in his hand and the you know the the spouses body is below him and this is a cleared murder.


The police didn’t do anything to solve this.

It was, it was solved itself.

And so he talked about how 15 to 20 percent of all murders are going to be these self solvers and the majority of the self solvers are more likely to be non firearm murders.


So as we have More and more firearm murders and a higher share of murders are fire are murders.

The likelihood of them basically being salt self solvers goes down and the likelihood of.

Then ultimately getting cleared goes down with it and you get individual cases one after another year after year, it adds up and that I think is a large part of the trend that we’re seeing in the overall National clearance rate.


That is so interesting.

Walk me through again this statistical.

Change this Are of murders that were Firearms murder, as you said, maybe 30, 40 years ago, versus the share of murders that were Firearms.

Murders in the last data set that we have I just want to make sure that I have top of Mind how Stark that transition has been.


Yeah so in the 80s and early part of the 90s, most of the 90s really up until 2015, it was usually in the low, 60% range were be a firearm, and usually in the middle.


Mid to high 60 percent range, low 70 percent range were being cleared.

Then, in 2015, it sort of Switched where 2015 was the first year on record that we got 71 percent or more of murders were via firearm and each of the last six years.


We’ve seen that increase from 71 percent in 2015, all the way to 77 percent of murders in 2020 were via firearm.

At the same time, murder clearances in say 20, Team were 65% murder clearance rate, that felt a 62 percent in 2015 and 59 percent in 2016, which was the first time ever recorded under 60% and then it sort of hovered around there.


That’s 60% range for the next few years before really taking a nosedive in 2020.

And one thing we know about 2020, there was a big surge in murders but it almost all of it was firearm, right?

It was a 30 plus percent increase in firearm murders and like a 12%.


Increase in every other type of murder.

One thing that I’m putting together, which you didn’t explicitly say, but you definitely strongly suggested it is that, you know, we talked a couple times in the show about how the murder rate and the violent crime rate has re surged in the last few years.


But you’re pointing out that just about all of that seems to be caused by gun violence.

And it seems to me that it’s possible that the share of non Firearms murders, right?

The share of murders that are committed by it.

Anything other than a gun a knife or whatever, Suffocation might be at like an all-time low that the share of ground balls.


So to speak for police units, might be at an all-time low.

I mean it is, is that true or we basically looking at sort of a historic low of murders that aren’t carried out by firearm, but it’s but firearm murders have surged so much that that it’s accounted for that previous decline.


Yeah, we’re not necessarily at The bottom but we’re near the bottom relative to where we were especially in the 80s in 1986 for example, there were seven thousand, seven hundred and forty-five non firearm murders, and in 2020, there were 4650.


So that’s a pretty significant decline over the net.

The last 35 years but there were about 3,000 more firearm murders in 2020.

There were in 1986, we haven’t quite hit the peak of the 90s in terms of firearm murders.


But the vast majority of the increase in murder and the vast majority of what we’re talking about.

When you hear a crime wave or violent crime, Spike or whatever, we’re talking about firearm murders increasing and we don’t count, we don’t specifically count, non-fatal shootings, which is we could do a whole nother episode on that.


But so the best measure of of gun violence in America is firearm murders.

And that’s really what we’re talking about.

Whenever we talk about this increase in violent crime is increasing crime that we’re dealing with.

I’ve had the show, interesting, right?


So guns are a major part of this mystery gun, murders.

Leave less physical evidence at the scene, they’re less likely to be ground balls.

Maybe they happen in better locations to get away with the murder.


Is there anything to the Argument, I saw a little bit of this online, but I was an absolutely no place to adjudicate it.

Is there anything to the idea that there’s an increase in gang-related crimes, which might a make these gun murders, more likely, but also make it harder to sort of penetrate the network to figure out who committed the gun murder because that criminal is surrounded by a culture of Silence, a group of people who very much Much want to not talk to the police and conceal, the murderers identity, anything to that argument.


That I saw floated around quite a bit online.

I think it’s a really hard question to answer for a couple of reasons.

One is that we really don’t collect data on it so and I like it you mean gay shootings and murders nationally.

There’s just there’s no good data collection so Jeff is becoming very frustrating in this conversation and it’s a frustration that I’ve had in previous conversations about crime and to a certain extent.


Is Central to, I guess why you do what you do, the data on crime in America, just seems to be absolutely horrible.

It’s the murder data comes out, 18 months to two years late.

Sometimes we don’t collect nitty-gritty fine-tuned data, we don’t even track.


Gang-related crime, nearly to the extent that we should.

And I’m not making a point that’s going to be particularly Innovative to anybody, who’s to study this for a few years, but it does clearly seem to be a major major problem.

Come here.

But again, this is how we could do a whole nother show on, but if you want to talk about how it’s about to get worse, there’s switching crime data collection system so that we’re the whole problem is about to get much worse.


So right I’ll come on the show next month and well that’s right on that or something.

The other issue with the gang.

A question is that frequently it’s sort of there’s not really a Rhyme or Reason there’s no standardization You frequently get people put on gangs lists.


That don’t belong there that there’s you know, a lot of argument that the gang lists themselves are racist and that there’s, you know what that terrible phrase racial undertones in them.

It’s so it’s, it’s very difficult to say, even if we were collecting the data that departments were appropriately, evaluating whether or not gang violence was a part of the increase that said, if Logical that every type of violence is a part of the increased domestic violence.


You know, Gang Related violence, road rage incidents.

Every type of firearm murder that you can think of is probably contributing to the increase.

And there’s no way to say what that exact recipe looks like, but the the strong likelihood is that it’s not just one thing or another that’s causing it.


Just to review, we talked about the fact that the 1960s and even 1970s data’s is mostly bunk.

We’ve talked about Miranda, we’ve talked about guns, which I went to highlight and emphasize with italics and bold guns, guns guns.

I want to move on to explanation number four, Which is higher standards from District Attorneys, and juries.


And here I’m quoting from response that I got from Chris Hasek.

Who’s commander of Houston Police Department’s, Southwest Division.

He told me, he spent five years investigating.

Homicides, he actually agrees that the mid-century rates were inaccurate, he also said greater accountability and higher standards today, led to more accurate data and better Tech can be beneficial, but it creates higher demand in the eyes of the district attorney and in the eyes of juries, is there any way should have building from that explanation?


That police officers working a murder case?

Anticipate that the bar has been raised and if the bar of evidence has been raised, then it is harder to clear the Murder by finding someone who only needs that’s a 70 or 80% of that newly High bar, essentially, that all these juries have been watching CSI and CSI, Miami and they expect DNA evidence and they expect you no forensic evidence and expect all this different stuff and that as a result it’s just harder to meet that bar on a consistent.



And so you have fewer suspects arrested and brought before a jury in the first place.

Anything to this higher standard explanation, I think it makes a lot of sense that I think it sounds like it’s a bad thing that it’s an onus on police departments, but I haven’t see it as only a good thing and I apologize if I represented as a bad thing, I’m obviously not interested.


It goes to my previous comment that to a certain extent, a statistic that is seen by some as oh well this merely shows that police aren’t doing their jobs.

Might show that some police aren’t doing their jobs, but might also show that ethics and standards are improving over time, so sorry to interrupt and maybe even steal the point you’re about to make, but please confirm that you’ve got decades plausibly have decades where prosecutors want to win.


That’s what they want to do.

Most of all, and if they’ve been refuted by jurors, if they have a more difficult time, making cases these days without Higher bar to clear, then it’s not that.

And again, I want to be clear that the clearance rate has nothing to do with whether or not the da, accepts the charges.


But it certainly would make sense that the police when they’re making, the arrests are less likely to make the arrest.

If they don’t think they have the evidentiary base to where the da will exact card.

Well said, all of that has been baked into the calculus that the police are using when they’re trying to clear a case.


And you know, The given all of the issues of Innocence with the American justice system over.

You know, the last.

How old are we now 270 years, whatever?

Whatever, our ages, I should know America just celebrated her birthday, I do not have a cup of mine, you know, in that entire frame, we have had severe criminal justice issues.


So in this case, you know, in that framing, it would be a good thing to have better evidence being required.

And that being baked into the calculus that said.

Going back to the point that we keep raising is that we don’t know for sure the degree to which that is.


It really is anecdote and feeling and and from somebody that Chris, who is obviously very knowledgeable about the subject and has lived it, but we don’t have what we would want, which is the data to be able to say, you know, here’s the chart going down.


Here’s the chart going up, but it certainly makes a lot of sense.

Number five, explanation number five.

I have to ask you Racism the same way that for some people guns.

Explain everything is their universal theory.

There are other people especially in analyze the criminal justice system and the car still system for whom racism is or should always be the first order explanation.


So got to talk about race here.

I’ve seen evidence the clearance rate for black victims in the last few years.

Or decades has gone down while the clearance rate for white victims has gone up.

That is the cops.

Maybe have always been better at solving crimes when the victim was white and that disparity is getting worse.


There’s that potential piece of evidence that I’d like you to comment on, but at a more broad level, I love you to comment on the possibility that what we’re looking at is just that a lot of American police officers.

Can’t say all of them, but a lot of American police officers are just racist.


Whether they are, whether that racism is implicit or explicit, It’s and that we have to deal with that explanation for the declining clearance rate over time.

What do you see as the best way to bring race into this calculation?


It’s obviously very tough.

It doesn’t help that we don’t really have clearance rates broken down by race.

The best we can do is using the FBI supplementary homicide data and guesstimate, where they’ve identified an offender.


If that was assault case or a unsolved case, it it’s absolutely.


That we have seen a steady increase in both the number Number of, black murder victims.

And the and a steady decline in the share of those victims that are seeing their cases, likely solved, whereas white victims have tended to, if you squint, you can maybe see a slight increase, but it’s largely been more of, a plateau, over the last two decades, or so, or, so, in terms of the share that are likely solved and it’s hard to say, The degree that is it just that black victims are being shot and killed more often and white white victims are just not that sort of at a plateau.


Certainly plausible.

We saw a decline or an increase in both white shooting victims, and black shooting victims in 2020, but we’re as we saw a really small increase in white shooting victims.

There was a huge surge in Black shooting victims in 2020, so that might help explain some of the Line last year, but it doesn’t explain two decades worth of decline there.


I guess the question is always, you know, is racism involved.

And I’m not one here to say that there’s not racism in the criminal justice system of policing that that is obviously the case still.

But is that responsible for the problem?


Getting worse and I don’t think that you’re seeing worsening clearance rates because police are getting more Then they were 60 years ago, right?

Or even 30 years ago, right?

It’s it’s very hard to argue that America’s police, departments are whatever, 25 35 % more racist than they were 30 years ago.


The sort of number that would be necessary for racism alone to explain this entire picture, at the same time.

How do you feel about an explanation that says that, as black victims of gun, murders, increase as a share of all?

All gun murder victims.


The poor relations between black Americans and police officers might make it harder for the police to get evidence about who might have committed these murders.

And that therefore, the impression often accurate of police being racist fees into black Americans, being less responsive to less Cooperative with police, which then feeds into a lower clearance rate for black victims of Ghana.



So this is actually the doesn’t try to, you know, blame any one specific group in a in a, for the entirety of this picture, but his points out that the equilibrium of bad relationships, between black Americans.

And police officers, might be a contributor to the decline of clearance rates that the entire thesis that Giglio V and ghetto side has, and I think that it’s certainly plausible.


And again, I’m pitching the book.

I don’t get a check every month for pitching it.

It’s just a terrific book, but she It’s about which he calls the absence of the state Monopoly on violence, where if there’s a 50 50 50 percent clearance rate or in a lot of neighborhoods.


Wesley Lowery and the Washington Post a couple years ago, did a bunch of pieces on places where they talk about.

It just free to murder that certain neighborhoods where the police just don’t solve murders.

So like in New Orleans if you’re murdered in the French Quarter, 90% of those are going to be solved.


You’re murdered a mile away in the Seventh Ward, you know, maybe 15% of those are being solved.

And so the Jia how much how important it is, the geography of murder.

And so certain communities have baked in the likelihood of this murder being solved and because they don’t trust the police.


They don’t trust the state to go out and actually do it and solve it.

That they take things into their own hands and it sort of creates this cycle of violence.

That’s very difficult to interrupt.

Act because you don’t have that that initial layer of trust in the police to be to have that Monopoly on violence to be.


The only ones that can make arrests.

Be the only ones that can be their own criminal justice system.

And when we talk about murder going up in 2020, I think that it’s it’s a logical explanation that after the murder of George Floyd and all the protests and you know, police violence and deeply seeing everything that happened that Communities that have never had high levels of trust in policing to begin with.


Had that level eroded even further which led to this cycle of violence that we’ve had for the last two years.

That’s been very difficult to interrupt virtually impossible.

Interrupt pretty much anywhere.

You’re not seeing anywhere that’s having sustained declines in gun violence, really?


I mean, you’re getting a couple of places that are having had declines in 2021, and then they’re seeing increases this year, like Dallas was touted as this place, seeing this great decline in. 21.

And now murders up a bunch in Dallas.

So and this is very much like the Patrick Sharkey thesis, Patrick Sharkey who’s a researcher and professor at Princeton University.


And one of I think the great authorities on crime in the last 20 years, this is a part of his thesis, which is that you have a really unstable equilibrium even in the 1990s, early 2000s, when crime was going down this in stable equilibrium, where, yes, crime is going down, but relations between the public, especially black communities.


And the police were Really fragile such that it seemed to him relatively inevitable.

That the equilibrium would break somehow there would be some kind of Ferguson moment or George Floyd moment which would ruin relationships, create distrust, maybe, cause some police to pull back, cause a sort of, you know, acute D policing of an area, and then crime would Bloom there and worsen relations between the community and police even further.


And the disequilibrium that you’re describing just becomes very very hard to settle down.

I think it’s a complicated thesis, but I think in part because it is so sophisticated it really appeals to me.

So we’re reaching the very end of our explanatory jambalaya here and I just want to review before we get to the very last potential explanation. 60s clearance rates were hogwash.


Number two, we got Miranda number three, the rise of guns number for the rise of standards, and number five, racism and or poor relations between police and Community is creating this unstable equilibrium.

Finally number six, Our police just not doing their jobs, is it possible to quality of detective work?


Is just worse.

And that’s sort of the simplistic way to suggest that maybe just police aren’t doing their jobs.

But also I’ve read a lot of studies suggesting the police today.

Spend much more time than they used to doing stuff like clearing homelessness or responding to mental health crises in downtown areas.


That’s not really like a detective work that’s kind of just doing the job of a social worker but you know, with a gun in your Your back pocket.

So is it possible that the quality of police work itself is declining?

It’s certainly plausible.

It’s again, not something that we can necessarily measure in a satisfying way.


I think that the the issues are we’ve seen, certainly we’ve seen a drop in the number of police and a lot of departments, especially over the last couple of years are struggling.

So, as your numbers go down, and you’re seeing a rise in violence, you’re going from, let’s say, you have Detectives who are investigating and you know, 150 murders that’s five five murders per detective which is close enough to what the standard should be.


Well, let’s say that doubles and you’re looking at 300 murders, are you looking at 250 murders?

And now he’s detective and you’ve only got twenty five murders because five of them left to go work, you know, in the suburbs where there are no murders.

So, now you got 25, detectives working, and 250 murders.


And you’ve basically gone from Um, five cases per 210 and so it’s not inherently the Texas fault that they’re doing the worst job.

But if you double their workload and you reduce the number of them then you’re going to have a harder time solving murders and I think that you’re probably seeing some of that and especially in 2020 or seeing that and we don’t know what the 2021 numbers will look like.


But I’m guessing that they’re they’re low again and well in 15 years.

Will it will have the good data on that.

What about technology?

Is it possible that technology might play a role in terms of?

I mean you know, it’s funny like with journalists like being able to do a lot of work over Twitter means that we place fewer phone calls.


Is it possible that police detectives have a sort of similar but different issue where the amount of information that’s available to them on their computers, might make them less likely to be integrated into their Our local communities to Source up to solve some of these crimes.


But everything, definitely think.

Technology is a double-edged sword for solving murders.

Obviously, it’s great if you, you know, yet you see the, the murder happening on a videotape on a surveillance tape and you’re able to solve it that way.

Great technology was key.

DNA is the ground ball?


DNA is great.

Yeah, DNA helps to solve cases that that 20 or 30 years ago.

Might not have been solved or 40 years ago, but there’s also the negative side which is that you Out, you can talk to Witnesses and they say, it was Johnny over there.

And then Johnny says, I was at Walmart, you go to Walmart and you’ve confirmed his Alibi that he was walking in.


At the time of the murder happened.

Makes it more difficult.

The other reason that it makes it more difficult.

And John Skaggs, the retired.

LAPD detective talks about this.

He says, he’s solving 90 95 percent of all of his cases in a given year because his way is going out and talking to people and finding Witnesses and Gathering evidence, and that, that is 100% the key.


Key to solving murders and too often.

These newer detectives he says, are sitting on their butts, they’re waiting for iPhone to respond to their warrant.

To get to open up the phone so they can look in the phone there.

They’re not going out there and doing this sort of old-fashioned detective work.


That is the way that and the more resources, the more time, the more witnesses you talk to the more likely the case has to be solved.

And so if you’re not doing that then you’re probably Bubbly going to solve fewer murders and so technology.


Presents, this great force multiplier, but in reality, it basically and I think someone someone like retired detective, like Skaggs might argue that it basically removes the traditional way that you’ve been successful at on an individual detective basis or it doesn’t teach the skills that you really need to be able to solve them.


So I don’t think it’s detectives are lazy and not doing their job like they were decades ago, but But I think that through a complex combination of metrics technology may not be the way that that is the only thing that helps us solve these cases.


And if we’re only relying on technology, then that might help explain why we’re not seeing as many cases solved.

That’s so interesting.

Yeah, I find that so fascinating and in part because it’s so relatable, there’s so many aspects of my job where it seems easy enough to answer say an economic mystery.


Just asking economists on Twitter or just posing the question on Twitter and hoping that economists will respond to it rather than picking up the phone and reaching out to someone specifically in saying, hey, can I like build this relationship with you?

Such that you can like, you know, call me and I can email you and we can answer this economic questions together.


I don’t want to suggest that like, tweetdeck is a perfect metaphor for the job of detectives, which is frankly, something that I only tangentially understand through talking to people like you, but this double edged sword of Technology.

Where the convenience, the short-term inconvenience disguises.


A longer term loss of knowledge.

I think is absolutely fascinating Jeff.

This has been absolutely just really, really interesting to me.

I want to ask you one more question because we have what I see is like seven different items on the menu.

I’ve gone over them a bunch the last few that we just added to the menu are fewer.


Cops / murder which seems pretty significant and the rise of tech being a kind of double edged sword.

What do you think with the understanding that we don’t have good data here?

And these are all hypotheses rather than strongly held convictions of everything that we talked about.


What are the one or two issues that you think did the most work in terms of explaining why clearance rates have declined not since the 1960s 1970s?

I totally believe that those were fictitious numbers but the last 20 to 30 years what are the most important variables to explain why the clearance rate has declined?


I mean I think it’s the guns.

It’s the The nature of murder in America is changing in ways that we don’t really talk about enough.

That it’s not in the 90s, it was New York, Chicago, Los Angeles murders, not all firearms but you know, the significant portion but not to the degree that is now.


Whereas now it’s spread out over a whole bunch of cities.

We’ve gone from in the 90s, 20% of murders were in New York.

Chicago Los Angeles now with like six or seven percent each year.

And so you’ve got a bunch of cities where Firearms make up 80 to 90% of their murders.


And so that is the think, the main driver of as that chair creeps up and the number of cities that are having more and more murders, creeps up that you’re saying, these are harder to solve and and for a whole host of reasons, it leads to lower clearance rates everywhere.


Jeff, thank you so much.

I really appreciate all of this.

Thanks for On me.

Thank you very much for listening.

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