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March 27th, 2006

Declining Clearance Rates – Part 1

Although clearance rates went up a teeny, tiny bit nationally, I’m still curious why they have been generally declining over the years. It was such a huge shock to me to discover while I was writing the book that clearance rates have, in fact, been slowly going down. What really amazed me was, the decline in clearance rates began around the time DNA started to be used forensically. “So what?” DNA hasn’t made a difference?? It just doesn’t make sense.

I have a theory. “DNA is used in cases that were probably going to lead to an arrest anyway (clearance rates refer to arrests, not convictions).” Cases where the murderer got close and left all sorts of trace evidence besides DNA. So it isn’t helping so much in arrests, those arrests were going to be made anyway. BUT, it’s helping build stronger cases and leading to more convictions. This is also contributing to the overall number of murders going down (more murderers in jail). But it wouldn’t necessarily have an effect on clearance rates.

Also, perhaps by quite naturally focusing on the cases they can solve and win, they are putting just a little less attention on the cases that are a lot harder to solve. Because the clearance rates aren’t plummeting. They are going down very slowly, over time. So you only have to have a slight shift in attention to explain it. And there has been a shift in attention towards DNA. The thing is, they can’t always recover DNA from a murder scene.

I have a number of theories, which I will be posting over the weeks and months to come.

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