This is the third story in a series about murders in Washington, DC Read the rest here: Part 1 Part 2
WASHINGTON, DC – The police department for the state capital has withheld information about its murder detectives, which criminologists say could help indicate whether the city’s murder approval rate will continue to fall.
Details such as the detectives’ level of experience and their caseload are key factors in a police agency’s closure rate, criminologists told Fox News. But Metropolitan Police Department bureaucrats refused to provide details about its detective staffing.
“Unfortunately, we do not provide details on staff levels assigned to designated units,” Kristen Metzger, MPD’s deputy communications director, told Fox News in a Friday email. “Our department has the hardest-working murder detectives who work around the clock to follow all tracks and close the victims and their families.”
The National Board of Police would also not provide specific figures for case load.
WASHINGTON DC-MAN ARRESTED FOR SHOOTING POLICE
“The caseload of homicide detectives varies every year, so we are unable to provide you with this information,” a spokesman for MPD told Fox News in an email on December 21.
But after asking for clarification, another spokesman replied on January 13: “The staffing level and caseload of homicide detectives has remained consistent through 2019, 2020 and 2021 in the Criminal Investigations Division.”
Homicide increased by 30% nationwide in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the FBI. Last year, several major cities set homicide records or reached their highest level in decades. Washington, DC, for example, hit 226 homicides in 2021 – the largest number since 2003.
In addition, nine MPD homicide detectives said from 2019 to 2021, according to the spokesman’s email on December 21. It is not clear whether this figure includes departures for other reasons, such as retirement or transfer.
The MPD would not disclose how many detectives were hired during this period.
MPD provided data in its December 21 email that showed sworn hiring across the department went faster than layoffs. Still, 11 days earlier, the mayor’s office released a statement saying “MPD currently has about 3,550 officers – the lowest in more than two decades.”
Police forces in major cities across the country struggled with attrition and hiring following anti-police demonstrations that broke out across the country after an officer killed George Floyd in May 2020.
“It’s been a challenge over the last couple of years, retention – based on everything going on in the country and the general mood around the police – as well as our ability to hire,” Deputy Mayor Christopher Geldart told Fox News.
University of Nebraska Omaha associate professor Justin Nix said, “The retention crisis is real, and it’s disproportionately much felt by larger city agencies. There’s a wealth of problems coming from it.”
Capturing killers can become more challenging if killing units face similar fatigue challenges.
The remaining detectives “have more work, fewer resources,” a criminologist at Louisiana State University School of Public Health, Peter Scharf, told Fox News.
Fewer detectives mean higher caseloads, and substitutes may be younger or less familiar with society – factors that criminologists say could hurt the number of homicide approvals.
“There is a correlation between significant increases in homicides and falls, at least for a time, in police solution rates because departments simply are not able to adapt as quickly as homicides increase,” University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld told Fox News. “The police’s capacity to investigate and solve homicides simply does not keep pace with the increase … in the number of homicides the police are confronted with.”
“And if you then add the pandemic and the depletion to the ranks of the police, it makes the solution even more difficult,” he continued, noting that officers often had to be quarantined because of COVID-19 and were subject to social distance requirements.
Metzger told Fox News: “While COVID has affected all of our lives, it has not affected the MPD’s ability to investigate and close murder cases.”
MPD data shows that it closed 67% of its homicide cases in 2021 – a decrease of 1% from 2019. But according to DC Witness, a non-profit organization that uses a method that more closely tracks violent crime in the year it took place, and counts further deaths as homicide. , found the department’s murder detection rate of 42% – the lowest since the group started in 2015.
‘UNCONDITIONAL’: WASHINGTON DC MURDER VICTIMS OFTEN KILLED IN SMALL OFFENSES, experts say
“We may not have the trained staff to deal with these cases,” Scharf said.
Wear and tear in homicide units can have an additional drawback: the loss of experience.
“Detectives are like old wine: they get better with age,” Scharf told Fox News. “You can not take a rookie out of the academy and turn them into a great murder detective. That’s just not how it works.”
“It’s a slow apprenticeship that takes a long time to master,” he said.
Aside from experience, recruitment has been a challenge for police departments across the country.
“A number of departments have reported that they are having a hard time replacing the losses in the series, even with rookies,” Rosenfeld told Fox News.
Despite its reduced staff, the MPD has stepped up recruitment, according to local officials.
“We’re back on track, I think, with hiring,” Geldart told Fox News. “We are doing what we need to do to start reversing the trend and getting more officers on.”
The cadet training program has increased from 15 cadets a year to 150, DC City Councilman Charles Allen told Fox News.
He stressed that the department aims to hire officers from the local community, which according to criminologists can be an effective way for the police to build a relationship with the community – and thus prevent and solve crime.
But Nix warned that police departments might lower the standards for hiring or promoting officers if it proves difficult to fill crucial roles.
“When your back is against the wall and you have to have your boots filled, there is a risk that you develop people before they are ready and you lose the valuable experience that you would otherwise have,” he told Fox News. “This is bad news from a public safety point of view and from a police community.”
Meanwhile, both veteran and novice detectives can fight to get murder witnesses to cooperate, according to criminologists. Without a cooperating witness, the chances of catching a killer fall.
“What happens to people’s willingness to cooperate with the police… when general trust in the police is declining in the very neighborhoods where most of the killings are being investigated?” said Rosenfeld. “It will reduce the clearance rates.”
Decreases in police confidence make homicide witnesses less likely to cooperate with investigators, meaning detectives are less likely to make an arrest, Fox News reported earlier. When the police fail to make a request, trust and cooperation fall further, forming a vicious circle.
“A by-product of the police refund [movement] is this resistance to cooperating among the people that detectives need most to cooperate, “Scharf told Fox News.” We’ve had several cases in the last few months where children are killed and no one speaks. “
“We are in a mess nationwide and I think it will take several years to figure this out,” the criminologist continued. “Unfortunately, people are going to die in this paralysis.”