Baltimore County Now
Police Chief James Johnson
When we talk about crime statistics, we too often overlook clearance rates – the numbers that tell us whether a police agency is doing a good job of solving crime.
Here in Baltimore County, our clearance rates are excellent, well above the national average.
In fact, the Baltimore County Police Department’s clearance rates are so good that the U.S. Department of Justice has featured BCoPD in a September 2013 publication, “Homicide Process Mapping, Best Practices for Increasing Homicide Clearances.”
This 54-page study examined seven law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. with outstanding homicide clearance rates, seeking to understand what these agencies are doing right. BCoPD is one of these model agencies.
The introduction to the study says, “Although the national clearance rate average has continued to drop, some individual law enforcement agencies have excelled in clearing homicides, with clearance rates of 80 percent and higher. The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) wanted to understand how some agencies were so successful in their homicide investigations.”
Researchers from the Bureau of Justice Assistance visited our Homicide Unit to examine our staffing, management, resources and investigative strategies. The publication will be used by other law enforcement agencies interested in improving their homicide investigations and clearance rates.
In law enforcement parlance, “clearance” means that a case has been solved because the offender has been identified and either arrested, has died or the homicide ruled justifiable.
The DOJ study focused on 2011, a year in which BCoPD’s 83.3 percent homicide clearance rate far exceeded the national average (62 percent).
More recently, in 2012, the national clearance rate for homicide in 2012 was 62.5 percent. Baltimore County’s clearance rate was 95.7 percent.
Our clearance rate for all Part I violent crime – the most serious crimes, including rape, robbery, and aggravated assault – has exceeded the national average going all the way back to 1995.
Here are the most recent 2012 clearance rates for Part I violent crimes other than homicide:
• Rape -- BCoPD, 69.7 percent; national average, 40.1 percent
• Robbery – BCoPD, 48.4 percent; national average, 28.1 percent
• Aggravated assault – BCoPD, 84.1 percent; national average, 55.8 percent
In 2012, our clearance rate for all Part I violent crime – homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – was 71.9 percent, or 25.1 percent higher than the national average.
The clearance rates for property crime typically are lower than for crimes against people because there often is no contact between the victim and the suspects; detectives may not even have a suspect description to use during their investigation. Even with those challenges, clearance rates for Part I property crimes such as burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft were 14.1 percent above the national average.
What accounts for our success in clearing crime? The DOJ study answers this question quite well: “A stronger professional fabric, the investment of time and effort to build trust within the community, a willingness to challenge the status quo in performing investigative tasks and” – this last point is especially important – “a professionally developed and trained investigative workforce.”
BCoPD has worked hard over the years to give investigators the best technological tools, including skilled crime analysis personnel, forensics and other support services.
But the ability to solve crime starts and ends with hiring, training, retraining and retaining quality investigators – academically advanced law enforcement officers who understand that building a quality investigation is like crafting a fine piece of furniture. It takes time, care, precision and persistence.
The credit for Baltimore County’s outstanding crime clearance rates rests largely with our detectives and patrol officers. The work our investigators are doing is as good as, if not better than, that of any agency in the nation. I hope that our citizens are as appreciative of this as I am.