CHICAGO — In 2012, the body count — 506 murders — marked Chicago as America’s murder capital.
But here’s another grim statistic: Chicago police solved just 129 of those killings last year, a 25 percent clearance rate — the lowest in 21 years.
And even when police clear murder cases, that doesn’t mean someone always gets charged with murder.
Last year, 12 murders — or 9 percent of solved cases — were cleared “exceptionally.” That means a suspect has been identified, but charges weren’t filed because the suspected killer is dead, witnesses refuse to testify or prosecutors refuse to bring charges without more evidence.
Police also solved an additional 60 homicides that occurred in previous years. Thirty-one of those cases were cleared exceptionally without charges being filed.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said a pervasive "no-snitch code" on the street remains the biggest reason more murders aren’t being solved in Chicago.
“We’re not doing well because we’re not getting cooperation,” he said. “People have a fear, and rightfully so. That’s something that we have to take on.”
Tasha Bush agreed. The grieving mother said she was told by detectives that the Memorial Day weekend murder of her son, Jaylin Johnson, remains unsolved because people who saw the shooting have not come forward.
“They don’t feel protected when they come forward. They feel that police will throw them under a bus, and they still have to live in the neighborhood,” she said. “The next thing you know they try to investigate your murder. People don’t trust police."
But Chicago police union president Michael Shields said only so much blame can be placed on the no-snitch code. He said an understaffed detective division overwhelmed by the sheer number of shootings and murders also plays a major factor in the department’s low murder clearance rate.
“We’re down well over 300 detectives, and that plays a huge role in clearing murders,” Shields said. “The challenge is when there’s very little manpower, you’re working a case, and the next thing you know you’re being handed another homicide because no one is available. So you have to stop what you’re doing and go to the next one. That allows for very little investigating time.”
Police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said there’s already a plan to increase detective staffing. A training class of 70 detectives is expected to be on the street later this year.