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Almost Half Of The Homicides In Los Angeles County Go Unsolved

Photo by Fer Gregory via Shutterstock
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Almost half of the homicides in Los Angeles County from 2000 to 2010 remain unsolved—a rate well above the national average.That's according to a new analysis of county data by the Pasadena Star-News. Over that period of time, 46% of homicides cases in the county remain unsolved, which is 9% above the national average. That means there's a total of 4,862 unsolved cases.

Over 90% of the victims are male and half of them Latino. Black victims, of either gender, account for 34% of the total homicides over this time period and are more likely to go unsolved than cases with victims of other races. Compared to cases where the victim is white or Asian, the difference is stark. Unsolved cases with a white or Asian victim account for less than 10%. Sadly, these data are a reflection of the communities that blacks and Latinos tend to live in, which tend to have high crime, gang-proliferation, and the presence of illegal weapons. Many witnesses are hesitant to come forward and provide information that could help solve these cases, out of fear of retaliation.

"These statistics may reveal a much more subtle form of discrimination that getting rid of Jim Crow didn't get rid of and represents the next chapter in the MLK struggle," USC law professor Jody Armour told the Star-News.

The data already looks unflattering for local law enforcement but it's actually worse due to classification problems. During that same time period, almost 600 cases handled by the LAPD were considered closed with the label "cleared other," which indicates that the the crime was solved without any arrest or charges pressed. In the dataset looked at by the Star-News, the rate at which cases were closed as "cleared other" was over twice the national average.

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This information is self-reported, of course. "If you have a lot of open homicide cases, it doesn't reflect well on the department," says Wendy Regoeczi of the criminology research center at Cleveland State University, Ohio. In 2011, Chief Charlie Beck claimed the LAPD had solved 83% of murders in 2009. The analysis by the Star-News finds that figure to be much closer to 49%.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department does not use the "cleared other" label. "If we can't give a family closure through prosecution, why would we want to call it solved?" said Lt. Mike Rosson. For the families of the victims whose cases close without any prosecution, the consequences can be drastic. Families are unable to collect from a state victim compensation fund, and the killers may target and threaten family members.