Chicago police say they cleared 51.7% of murders last year. Here’s what they didn’t say.

Chicago police officers investigate after five people were shot in the 1900 block of North Stockton in Lincoln Park on June 17, 2023. No one has been charged with the crime. (CWBChicago)

CHICAGO — Shortly after the first of the year, the Chicago Police Department issued its annual “year in review” press release. Predictably, it was packed with good news—and only good news.

There was no mention of the year’s two headline-grabbing crime trends: a 23% increase in robberies and a 37% increase in motor vehicle thefts.

After boasting of “MORE THAN 12,000 WEAPONS RECOVERED,” the press release bragged, “DETECTIVES CLEAR HUNDREDS OF HOMICIDE CASES.”

“CPD detectives work diligently to hold violent offenders accountable and bring justice to victims and their families,” the press release said. “The Bureau of Detectives cleared 319 homicides this year, bringing the homicide clearance rate to 51.70%. – the highest since 2019.”

Now, regular readers know that your CWBChicago team is, uh, let’s say, skeptical when we hear the Chicago Police Department brag about something.

So, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of the murder cases CPD cleared last year.

Guess what? The press release was correct. Detectives did clear 319 murder cases last year.

What the press release did not mention was that only 140 of the cleared murders occurred last year—Richard Nixon was president when two of the slayings occurred. And nearly half of the 319 cases were “cleared” without anyone being charged.

Making it clear

The unstimulating world of crime statistics has its own set of rules. One of those rules holds that a case is considered “cleared” when the police consider it solved and close the books—not in the year it occurred.

And cases can be cleared in a few ways. Ideally, they’re cleared by charging someone with the crime. But if the criminal dies before charges are brought, the case can be cleared due to “death of offender.” And if investigators are sure they know who committed the crime but they just can’t convince prosecutors to approve charges, then the case can be cleared by “bar to prosecution.”

So, in fairness, CPD’s press release was not untruthful. It just relied on incurious journalists to blast out the 51.7% clearance headline without context.

The wayback machine

Here’s what CPD’s data shows about the murders “cleared” last year: As of New Year’s Day, 617 people had been murdered in Chicago during 2023. CPD cleared 319 murders—some that occurred in 2023 and some that did not—giving the department a 51.7% clearance rate.

  • Of the 319 cleared murders, 140 occurred in 2023. Police cleared 111 of them by bringing charges against someone. “Death of offender” cleared up nine cases. And 19 were cleared due to a “bar to prosecution.”
  • In short, charges have been filed in 18% of last year’s murders.
  • Of the 319 cleared cases, 108 had a bar to prosecution, and 47 were cleared by death.
  • Last year, CPD cleared 82 murders that occurred in 2022: 38 by charging, 8 by death of offender, and 36 by bar to prosecution.
  • They cleared 20 cases from 2021: 4 by charging, 4 by death, and 12 by bar to prosecution.
  • 13 cases from 2020 were cleared: 4 by charging, 2 by death, and 7 by bar to prosecution.
  • Last year’s murder clearances included two from the 1970s, one from 1984, and two from the 1990s.

Two dozen cases from 2000 to 2010 were cleared last year. While the data provided by CPD shows four were cleared by charging, we could not find court cases for three of them.

We did find a court file for the fourth one. It involves a double-shooting in uptown Uptown in 2008. One of the victims died, the other survived. Prosecutors charged the alleged shooter, Jorge Martinez, in 2013, and he is still awaiting trial. In 2022, the man who survived finally died. The shooting case became a murder case. And CPD cleared the murder in 2023.

CPD has issued press releases about its murder clearance rate before. In June 2022, the department boasted that it had achieved a homicide clearance rate of 58%. Over half of those cases were cleared without anyone being charged, too.

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About Tim Hecke 370 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com