While doing research for my new book, I came across some numbers that were troublesome. So rather than keep them to myself, I’ll share them with you.
I have a theory that people love to read mysteries and thrillers because there’s a satisfying ending. Justice is served, the bad guy is caught and punished. I think we love that because in real life things don’t necessarily end up being tied up quite so neatly.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report data and data from the Murder Accountability Project, in the late 1960s and 1970s, police solved about seven out of every ten murders. In 2020, they only cleared about half.
That means fifty percent of all murders in the US went unsolved. According to a piece in the Washington Post, that’s 26,000 unsolved homicides over a ten-year period.
According to a CBS News Investigation, a review of FBI statistics says that the murder clearance rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than half a century. Police are far less likely to solve a murder when the victim is Black or Hispanic. In 2020, the murders of White victims were about 30% more likely to be solved than in cases with Hispanic victims, and about 50% more than when the victims were Black, the data show.
Part of the problem, according to the CBS Investigation, is the breakdown in trust between communities and the police. That makes it much more difficult to receive tips or help from witnesses.
Another theory, according to the Marshall Project, a journalism non-profit organization, is that the methods to clear a crime…that is to identify and arrest a suspect…have changed over the years. Some of the “methods” of clearing crimes in the sixties, sometimes using “tricks” or shoddy evidence, led to a great many innocent people arrested, convicted, and sentenced.
Another theory is that more murders are gun related. Killing by gunfire can mean a certain amount of physical distance as compared to a knife or an object with which to bludgeon someone to death with. There’s less chance of leaving crucial clues.
But in the mystery novels you find in your local bookstore or library, the “clearance” rate is much higher, nearly 100% I’d guess. Reading a novel about crime and not seeing it resolved in the end is deeply unsatisfying.
So, as we write our stories, we interview witnesses who are willing to talk with our investigators. They may or may not be reliable, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?
Or investigators gather clues and analyze them, looking for evidence that will lead them to the bad guys.
And in our books, sometimes the bad guys make mistakes. In the movie Body Heat, an arsonist is advising his attorney who has come to him for advice on how to commit a crime. The arsonist says, “I want you to see if this sounds familiar: any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you’re gonna f–k up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you’re a genius… and you ain’t no genius.”
By the way, here are a few more sobering numbers, just in case you’re interested (these numbers are from 2018):
- 45.5% of all violent crimes were “cleared”.
- Only 33% of all rapes were solved.
- Only 17. 6% of all property crimes were solved.
And just to be concise, “clearing” a crime doesn’t necessarily mean a conviction or even an arrest. It can mean identifying the perpetrator who might already be in prison or dead.
So, now that I’ve shared this, I’ll get back to writing. I have a bad guy to catch.