Dallas Murders Are Up, Clearance Rates Are Down

The number of murders in Dallas, and the number of those murders that are being solved, are both headed in the wrong direction.

So far in 2016, 138 people have been murdered in Dallas, two more than were killed in Dallas during all of 2015.

Monday morning, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Rob Sherwin confirmed that DPD's 2016 clearance rate for those murders is hovering somewhere around 40 percent. According to the most recently available data from the FBI, DPD's murder clearance oscillated between 60 and 58 percent from 2011 to 2014. 

Sherwin disclosed the clearance rate to the Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee. He was in front of the committee to talk about his new gig, managing Dallas Animal Services as the city of Dallas ramps up its effort to confront southern Dallas' loose dog problem. Before taking over DAS, Sherwin headed DPD's Crime Against Persons Division (CAPERS), which is charged with investigated major crimes like murders.

By way of comparison, Houston's clearance rate stands at about 58 percent, according to a September report from the Chicago Tribune, while the Chicago Police Department, considered to be in crisis, has seen its rate of cleared murders dip to around 30 percent.
Stats can be tricky. With a sample size as small as 138 people, percentages can change with just a few unsolved murders. Taking the 2015 stats as an example, seven extra unsolved murders will lower the clearance rate by about 5 percent.  

Still, the stats are causing a political examination of police priorities. Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston questioned the decision, made by Dallas City Manager AC Gonzalez, to move Sherwin away from solving murders when DPD's murder clearance rate is dropping.

"I think you did to a good job at CAPERS. My point was that CAPERS still needs you," he said. "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. It is laughable. This is emblematic of the terrible management we are getting out of the current administration."

During an interview with the Observer this January, outgoing Dallas Police Chief David Brown said that the murder rate was the best way to "tell the tale" of crime in a city:

I always go back to where critics are: “You’re just manipulating the books to get a reduction every year. We’re not any safer.” So which ones of those categories would you agree would be the teller of the tale? And everybody says, "homicides." You can’t hide the bodies, right? That’s a reference from The Wire. You can’t hide them; we’re not hiding any bodies. So if our biggest critics agree that looking at homicides will tell the tale of how safe the city is, well, during my tenure we have the second, fourth, fifth, sixth lowest homicide rates in the city’s history. The other homicide rates that are as low as what’s happened since 2010 are in 1930 and 1950. And all the other categories are 40- and 50-year lows.

This debate will be waiting on the desk of whoever replaces Brown, and by then the 2016 murder stats will be fully tallied. David Pughes, currently DPD's interim chief, has said he is not interested in the full-time job. Brown's replacement will not start until early 2017 at the earliest, after Gonzalez retires as city manager and a new manager is brought in. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young