In 2013, the Chicago Police Department did a better job of catching killers.
A retooled homicide detective division flush with 72 newly promoted investigators assigned to probe shootings brought charges in or cleared 30 percent of murders in Chicago last year, according to police data obtained by DNAinfo Chicago.
Detectives cleared 126 of the 415 murders tallied in the city last year— the Police Department's best murder-solve rate in a single year since 2009, the data show.
That's a 5 percentage point improvement from 2012, when the department solved only 25 percent of 506 murders, the lowest clearance rate in 21 years.
Detectives also cleared an additional 106 cold case murders that occurred in previous years. That's 46 more solved cold case homicides than 2012, police data show.
Not all of those solved murders, however, led to someone getting charged. Some cases are "cleared exceptionally" because murder suspects identified by investigators are dead, or prosecutors declined to bring charges for a variety of reasons, including witnesses refusing to testify.
Police exceptionally cleared 12 homicides — nearly 10 percent of solved cases — that occurred last year. Nearly half of the cold cases — 52 of 106 — were considered solved exceptionally without bringing charges, according to police data.
Deputy Chief of Detectives Anthony Riccio said the first new class of detectives promoted in five years and increased cooperation from witnesses helped the Police Department's "team approach" to investigating homicides really hit its stride in 2013.
"We did do better. … With the teams we don't just have two guys assigned to a case. There's a sergeant and eight to 10 detectives. So cases never sit; they're constantly worked on," he said. "And there's closer supervision of the cases. Sergeants are far more engaged with investigations."
Last year, Riccio and his team even started holding homicide investigation team leaders accountable by conducting regular reviews of ongoing investigations. It's similar to Supt. Garry McCarthy's Compstat meetings with district commanders to review crime trends and make adjustments when needed.
"We review what steps have been taken on these cases and what additional steps we think need to be taken," Riccio said. "We pretty much rip them apart and scrutinize 'em. And we've found that because of that we have have better documentation of cases and also more thorough investigations because they know they have that additional accountability … from the commanders right on down to the sergeants."
Statistics show that detectives had more success solving murders in the last six months of the 2013.
Between January and July 18, detectives solved 50 of the 214 murders that occurred during that time frame. Detectives solved another 76 murders that happened during the rest of the year when there were 201 murders, according to police data.
The detective division's cold case team solved 76 percent more homicides from previous years than they did in 2012, according to police statistics.
"These are our most experienced homicide investigators," Riccio said. "These more seasoned guys have the ability to pick up these old files and see steps that were missed and go back and reinterview people who they don't think were being truthful, and that's resulted in more cases being cleared as well."
McCarthy said the "math" to solving homicides has been particularly important to the department's success.
"We have more detectives and fewer murders. So there's more people and more time to investigate them," he said. "And the detective bureau underwent a sea change last year under [now retired Chief] Tom Byrne ... with management changes including case reviews and holding people accountable."
There's also been a crack in the "no-snitch" code of silence on the street that McCarthy has said remains the biggest reason more murders aren't solved in Chicago.
"The input we've gotten from the community has been at a level that I don't think we've gotten in the past. That seems to be on the upswing," Riccio said.
"Technology has helped us. We have tip lines. … Text-a-tip, where they can send us photos and information. We no longer have to show up in a squad car and have two guys in suits walk into the house of someone who is understandably concerned about drawing the attention of gangs or other people in the neighborhood who might not take kindly to that," Riccio said.
McCarthy said he's seen firsthand that the department is enjoying a "strikingly better relationship with the community than we have had in a long time."
He recounted his experience New Year's Eve when he was with a young officer who made a heroic gun arrest and then kindly said to the man in custody, "Hey, bud. Do you have a phone or any jewelry, because we can give it to someone so it doesn't go missing while you're locked up?" McCarthy said.
"I was so impressed. That's a thousand miles away from how we talked to people when I came on the [New York City] police department in 1981. It's a sea change in the way we do business."
McCarthy, however, wasn't as happy about Wednesday's CompStat meeting, which he cut short and rescheduled for Thursday.
When asked if reports that he was angry at the way the meeting went he said, "That would be accurate."