Unsolved homicides prompt questions Detectives take exception to City Council resolution

December 19, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A group of City Council members plans to bring police homicide commanders before an investigative committee to publicly account for a declining arrest rate, putting detectives on the defensive.

Though the wording of the resolution -- introduced this week by three council members and supported by 13 others -- calls for a probe, the City Council president sought yesterday to downplay any implication that police were not performing adequately.

"It is really a fact-finding discussion that we want to engage in," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, one of the three sponsors of the request. "I don't think this should be interpreted solely as a criticism."

But detectives interviewed, while acknowledging a lower clearance rate than they would like, took exception to the resolution. No hearing date had been set.

Lt. Ben Lieu said he "would have no qualms inviting any member of the City Council to come here and witness the 110 percent effort that our detectives give day in and day out."

Department spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. also defended the detectives.

"The murder of an individual is the most complex crime to investigate," he said. "Homicides are investigated thoroughly and accurately. Whether it takes one day, one month or one year, detectives will not make an arrest for the mere sake of satisfying a statistic."

One of the council members spearheading the resolution is Councilman Martin O'Malley, the chairman of the Legislative Investigations Committee and a longtime antagonist and critic of Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

O'Malley's committee took on the Police Department last year when a group of black officers complained about disparate treatment in how black and white officers were disciplined. It led to spirited hearings, but also prompted more than a dozen reforms by Frazier.

Police say the homicide clearance rate through yesterday -- including slayings solved from previous years -- is 63.6 percent, compared with 71.6 percent at the same time last year. The rate in 1995 was 74.1 percent. This year, 294 people have been killed, compared with 320 at the same time last year.

The numbers cited in the one-page City Council resolution show lower totals, but they reflect murders that occurred and were solved this year. They do not include arrests made this year for slayings that occurred prior to 1997, which are used to calculate the national average.

According to the resolution, homicide detectives have made arrests in 43.8 percent of the 224 slayings that occurred in the first nine months of this year. That is down from a 55.3 percent arrest rate at the same time in 1996, when 140 of 253 slayings were cleared.

The resolution -- whose third sponsor is Bernard C. "Jack" Young -- also says that in 1993, when the city had a record 353 slayings, 34 detectives made arrests in 62 percent of the cases. But this year, it says, detectives have solved only 98 of 224 slayings, even though their individual caseload is less than half of what it was four years ago.

Maj. Kathleen Patek, the homicide commander, said the statistics cited in the resolution are confusing because some include slayings solved in previous years and others do not.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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