Baltimore County Solves its Homicides; North Richmond Doesn’t

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Nelson Hamilton, shot to death in North Richmond March 8 2014. Two of his brothers had already been murdered. (photo: KTVU)

How is it that one jurisdiction can do such a good job of solving murders, while another fails miserably in doing so?


Law enforcement in Baltimore County, Maryland, say they closed 100% of their homicide cases last year—a remarkable feat for any jurisdiction, even one that has only 20 killings a year. The neighboring city of Baltimore has a clearance rate of about half that. The state’s overall homicide clearance rate (the measure of cases solved versus unsolved) was 61%.


Baltimore County’s success has come by utilizing “novel investigative policies,” according to the Baltimore Sun. These include assigning uniformed officers who first respond to homicide calls to the unit investigating the murders, a move that provides expertise about the scene or the neighborhood.


Another tactic employed is the recording of all investigative interviews. “The recordings can be played for jurors in court, and can be helpful if witnesses become reticent or change their stories before trial,” the Sun’s Jessica Anderson wrote.


Baltimore County now enjoys its lowest homicide rate per 100,000 residents since the 1970s—something a portion of Contra Costa County, California, could only wish to claim.


North Richmond, an unincorporated stretch of the county measuring only 1.5 square miles, recorded 19 homicides last year. That’s a rate of 133 killings per 100,000 people annually. Most went unsolved, with charges being filed in only five of the cases.


North Richmond’s murder rate  is nine times higher than that of the neighboring city of Richmond’s, which consistently ranks among the worst cities in the U.S. for homicides.


A big problem is the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department, which is supposed to patrol North Richmond. But officers don’t have much of a presence there and are required to wait for backup before responding to a reported shooting. The fact that most of the murders are gang-related has made it more difficult for investigators.


Funding cutbacks have forced the sheriff’s department to cut about 100 deputies since 2008. Some community members have called for North Richmond to merge with the city of Richmond to improve public safety. But such a move is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Few Baltimore County Homicides Go Unsolved (by Jessica Anderson, Baltimore Sun)

The Bay Area Enclave Where They Almost Never Catch Killers (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

More than 40% of D.C. Murders Remain Unsolved (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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