Homicide Clearances: An Examination of Race and Police Investigative Effort

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Violent crime saw a decrease from 1999 through 2008. Coupled with this decrease have been decreasing homicide clearance rates. Homicide clearance rates have declined from 91% in 1965 to a 64% in 2008 (U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, 1965 & 2008). Research interest is increasing on homicide clearances yet there is still paucity in the literature.

Racial disparity has been a concern throughout the criminal justice system and the effects of race on homicide clearances is an area of concern. Along with the extralegal variable of race, very little attention has been given to the role that the police investigator plays in clearing a homicide case. Investigators are key role players since they are responsible for investigating the crime and bringing it to a conclusion. Despite the emergence of additional research addressing homicide clearances, there has been little attention paid to police practices.

The two main hypotheses used to explain homicide clearance rates are the discretionary and non-discretionary hypothesis. The discretionary hypothesis focuses on the victim's characteristics stating that the amount of law applied in a case will depend on victim or offender status. The non-discretionary hypothesis states that the seriousness of the offense and the pressures to solve it, both within and outside the organization, will lead to maximum investigative effort no matter what the race, age, or gender of the victim or offender (Roberts and Lyons, 2009).

This dissertation is a secondary analysis of the Wellford and Cronin (1999) study which examined factors affecting the ability of police agencies to clear homicides. My research tests the effects race has on homicide case status when effort is considered and when the covariates of severity were also considered since severity can drive the effort used in working a case.

The results are supportive of the non-discretionary hypothesis where case characteristics and not the extra-legal factor of race have an effect on case status. Race dyad effects are spurious and results indicate that both effort and severity are significant in predicting homicide case closure. Future research should continue to explore investigative effort, intra-severity, as well as the race dyad effects.