On Feb. 19, The Post published a front-page article headlined “The trick to D.C.’s homicide closure rate,” suggesting that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) was somehow tricking the public by announcing that it had a 94 percent homicide closure rate. To support its slanted claims, the article used misleading and inflammatory quotes from ill-informed sources. Furthermore, the writer left out information supplied by my department that would have invalidated the assertions contained in the story.
As chief of police, it is my duty to respond, to explain the truth and to defend the tireless work of the members of the MPD.
The MPD’s homicide clearance rate is calculated, as it is in most police departments in the country, using the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) guidelines established by the FBI in the 1930s — guidelines that are the national standard for reporting homicide clearance rates. The UCR closure standard is not a new development in the District; it has been used by the D.C. police since the early 1980s.
Because it includes action on both current- and prior-year homicides, UCR measures all of the work that an agency exhausts in closing cases. I have always stressed to my department the importance of closing all homicides — including prior-year cases. Any suggestion that the MPD is being deceptive by including prior-year closures is absurd. In fact, I have repeatedly and publicly explained the UCR closure calculations in our annual reports, to the media and in public testimony to the D.C. Council.
It must be noted that counting prior-year cases does not apply only to closures. Every year, we are required to count homicide cases resulting from assaults that occurred in previous years. This is because the UCR guidelines require the homicide to be counted during the year a case is ruled a homicide. For example, if a person is shot in 2008 but dies in 2011 due to his or her original injuries, this would be carried as a 2011 homicide. In recent years, the department has carried as many as 10 such homicides in a given year.
Without adherence to the UCR closure standard, there can be confusion as to what true clearance rates are. In 2008, the Oakland, Calif., police department was criticized for presenting multiple versions of its clearance rates. A year later, Oakland rewrote the police department’s performance measures to use only the UCR standard.
Unfortunately, the ultimate effect of The Post article was to unjustly discredit the relentless efforts of the men and women of the MPD. The fact is, last year the District realized the lowest number of homicides and highest clearance rate in almost 50 years. This is due to the dedicated and professional efforts of MPD members. Thanks to them, the District is no longer the “homicide capital of the United States” or the “city of unsolved murders.”
Oh, and by the way, in 2011 we closed 103 homicides, for a UCR closure rate of 95 percent. Regardless of how The Post would like us to record the rate, this is still approximately 40 percent over the national average for comparably sized cities.
The writer is the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.