Getting Away With Murder: Police today are solving fewer homicides than they did in the 1960s
If one were to choose a single core responsibility of the state, it would probably be the prevention of violence. Protecting people from homicide could not be more intimately related to the origins of, and the justification for, government. So how come we don’t talk much about how poorly or well we are doing at it? In the early 1960s, according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, it was typical for Canadian police to solve 90 to 95 per cent of all murders. The figures for recent years, after a long and steady decline, are generally below 80 per cent; in one year, 2008, the clearance rate dipped to slightly below 70 per cent.
Numbers released in June by the CCJS show that Canadian investigators enjoyed a good performance in 2010 by recent standards, clearing 75.3 per cent of homicides. A homicide is normally “cleared” by laying a charge against a perpetrator, or by the mere identification of one for cases in which no arrest is possible (murder-suicides or self-defence killings, for example). An odd feature of the decline in homicide clearances is that it does not appear to bear any relationship to overall homicide rates, which peaked in the mid-1970s and have been dropping ever since. Police are simply solving slightly fewer of the homicides they are presented with every year, irrespective of how violent the social environment is.
This is not necessarily bad news. We want murder files to be closed by the police through legitimate means, with the suspects identified accurately. Perhaps the 95 per cent clearance rates of the mid-1960s reflect a pre-Charter of Rights era, in which it was easier to finagle a truncheon into the investigative process. But there is no sharp change in the data that one might associate with a more active, rights-oriented judiciary, and contemporary cops don’t like to lean on the Charter as an excuse