David Pughes
David Pughes
Dallas Police Department

Interim Police Chief Blames Low Murder Clearance Rate on Witnesses

Dallas' final crime numbers for 2016 are out and while crime remains historically low, Dallas' murder clearance rate for the year, as reported by the Observer last month, took a dip last year to well below the department's three-year average.

Monday morning, interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes told the Dallas City Council's Public Safety Committee that the blame for the dipping clearance rate doesn't lay at the feet of DPD's detectives. Instead, Pughes says, officers are struggling with murder witnesses who have no interest in talking to the police.

"The clearance rate is something that we look at, but it's not an indication of the amount of work that the homicide detectives are doing in order to solve cases," Pughes said. "It's really nothing more than the amount of cooperation that we're getting as it relates to the homicides."

Over the course of 2016, DPD cleared — clearances being defined as making an arrest, not getting a conviction — 84 of the 172 murders committed in the city of Dallas. That 49 percent clearance rate is off by about six percent from the department's 55 percent three-year average, but it does represent an improvement from the department's reported performance in October, when then-Assistant Police Chief Rob Sherwin said the 2016 clearance rate was hovering at around 40 percent.

When those numbers were disclosed in October, Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston laid the blame for the decrease in clearances squarely at the feet of outgoing City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who transferred Sherwin from DPD's crimes against persons unit (CAPERS) to become the head of Dallas Animal Services. (Sherwin, long considered DPD's rising star, has since left the city entirely and is now the police chief in Forney.)

"We are trying desperately to hire more police and the city manager's plan for dealing with animals is to move two of our best cops into dealing with animal services," Kingston said. "It is laughable. This is emblematic of the terrible management we are getting out of the current administration."

Pughes did not put any blame on Gonzalez on Monday as he repeatedly put the onus for solving murders on those who witness them.

"It takes witnesses that are willing to come forward to solve homicide cases outside of DNA evidence or other evidence that places a suspect at the scene," Pughes said. "So, when you have a large portion of your homicides that involve drug transactions, you get witnesses that are unwilling to cooperate with the investigation. They won't come forward and testify, won't assist the detective with the investigation. In many of these homicides, we believe we know who the suspect is, but we have no cooperation to go forward with prosecution."

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