City’s Clearance Rates Decline, National Rates Down; Few Minorities Assigned To Detective, Tactical Units

For the CPD’s Criminal Investigation Division, finding solutions to crime gets more difficult each year.

In 1975 the Chicago Police Department solved a smaller percentage of all crimes than in 1964. And for each of the twelve years between 1964 and 1975, the department’s detective forces recorded a consistently lower “clearance rate” for all index crime.

Clearances are solutions to crimes. The “clearance rate” is the percentage of all crimes the police believe have been solved in the preceding year. A crime will be “cleared,” or solved, if the police believe they have identified the perpetrator of a crime. Clearances occur through arrest, death or other circumstances leading to the identification of the alleged offender. One identification can result in one or more crimes cleared.

The clearance rate is a key tool for evaluating the police detective’s performance. By solving crimes and arresting criminals, the police presumably deter future crimes.

In 1964, referring to the use of clearance rates as a performance standard, Chicago’s former Police Superintendent, the late Orlando W. Wilson, said, “In no branch of police service may the accomplishment of the unit and its individual members be so accurately evaluated as in the detective division.”

Wilson urged the comparison of clearance rates over long periods.

“Chance may cause an unfavorable comparison during a short period, but when the failure of performance extends over six months or a year, a conclusion of diminished effectiveness seems justified,” Wilson advised.

In 1975, the most recent date for which clearance rates are available, the CPD reported cleared:

  • 22 percent of all burglaries (10,330 burglaries) and 12 percent of all auto thefts (4,032 auto thefts).

In 1964, CPD detectives reported cleared:

  • 35.6 percent of all burglaries (10,687 burglaries cleared) and 35.5 percent of all auto thefts (9,721 auto thefts cleared).

The Reporter singles out the comparison between burglary and auto thefts in 1975 and 1964 because the decline in clearances is so dramatic.

The department solved 357 fewer burglaries and 5,689 fewer auto thefts, an absolute, as well as a percentage decline over the past 12 years.

Classy Crooks

James O’Grady, the present chief of the CPD’s Criminal Investigation Division, says at least one reason for the dwindling clearance rates is the increasing sophistication of the criminal.

“Certain crimes are very difficult to solve,” says O’Grady, “particularly crimes against property because there are usually no witnesses to these crimes.”

O’Grady concedes that crime is becoming more difficult to solve, but argues that the Chicago Police Department is doing no worse than the rest of the country. “Our clearance rates parallel the national trend,” he Says.

Howard Saffold, president of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League blames the police department, more than the criminal, for the current drop in clearance rates.

Saffold puts it bluntly, “Racism is the basis of the low solution rate. No more than 13 percent of the department’s detectives are black.” Saffold argues that since most serious crimes occur in the black police districts, most detective work must also be done in these districts.

“You’re not going to find a lot of white detectives tracking cases through these cold, rickety buildings in the inner city,” he-says.

In 1975, of the CPD’s 1,228 detectives, 122 were black (10 percent) and nine were Latino (0.7 per cent). In 1975, 32 percent of all murders and rapes, 32 percent of all robberies, 23 percent of all burglaries and 18 percent of all auto theft were committed in four black police districts — Wentworth, Grand Crossing, Englewood and Harrison.

Yet eight percent of the homicide detectives were black, five percent of the robbery detectives were black, 14 percent of the burglary detectives were black and 9 percent of the auto theft detectives were black.

Saffold also points out that few blacks or Latinos are assigned to the CPD’s tactical units, extensions of both the CPD’s Patrol and Detective divisions. Tactical units consist of police officers patrolling the streets in civilian clothing and unmarked police cars.

Saffold says, “The theory is to take a guy who blends into an area and give him an edge over the criminal element.”

However, the Reporter found that in 1975 of the department’s 393 0fficers assigned to tactical units, 24 were black (6 percent) and four were Latino (one percent).

Saffold argues that it is difficult for tactical unit officers, 93 per cent of whom are white, to “blend” into Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods.