Chicago must overhaul homicide investigations: researchers

Data pix.

The Police Executive Research Forum found problems in the department that included inadequate training; a lack of a detective unit devoted solely to homicide investigations; and a failure to adequately help witnesses or even have a witness protection unit that is critical in persuading people to come forward to help solve crimes.

The report shows the clearance rate for homicides in 2017, the most recent year listed, was at 36% for the nation's third-largest city, compared with 84% for New York and 73% for Los Angeles. Chicago has a higher homicide rate than both of those cities.

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the clearance rate in homicide investigations has climbed from about 30% in 2016 to more than 46% so far this year. He credited changes the department has already undertaken, including the hiring of 300 detectives.

Other problems listed in the report include too few detectives assigned to stations in areas where slayings are committed and no "tracking mechanism to determine the exact number of homicide cases assigned to each detective." It noted that detectives and their supervisors were confused about just how many homicide cases each detective had been assigned in the past year.

The Police Executive Research Forum made the following recommendations to CPD:

  • Create a designated homicide unit
  • Increase the number of detective areas from three to five (which CPD already announced it would do)
  • Develop a consistent approach to investigating homicides
  • Increase cooperation between detectives and prosecutors

In a news release, CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the department is setting up a new team to help manage and implement the changes recommended by the research group.

"With these findings in hand, the City of Chicago is acting today to ensure that police officers and detectives have the systems of support that are required not only for solving crimes — but for preventing them from occurring in the first place," said Lightfoot.

Another issue, according to the report, it takes the state too long to turn around DNA analysis. In some instances, six to 12 months.

"That’s unheard of. That’s unacceptable," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Forum said. "That means that while you’re investigating one crime you have to wait six months to 12 months for the state police to give you back the findings. In some cities that can be done in 10 days or 30 days."

In recent years, as homicides and violent crime in Chicago received national attention and the city came under withering criticism from President Donald Trump, a companion story has been detectives' inability to arrest suspects for both homicides and non-fatal shootings.

However, homicide numbers in Chicago have been trending downward over the last couple of years, after hitting a 19-year high of 770 in 2016. Police say 660 homicides were committed in 2017 and 561 were committed in 2018.

This summer, city and county officials feuded over the cause of Chicago gun violence. Stephanie Kollmann of the Children Family Justice Center at Northwestern Law said CPD is wrong to blame violence on bond reform.

"Illinois has raised its penalties for gun possessions repeatedly," she said. "They’re now in many cases higher than the federal penalties and none of that has caused a reduction in gun violence. Chicago actually sends more people to state prison disproportionately than other areas of the state of Illinois. And still we are not seeing an impact on gun violence."

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