We have just reached over 300 homicides for this year (2017) in Baltimore City. Millions of people must be wondering what is going on behind the scenes of Baltimore’s homicide unit. Are the assailants getting caught? How does their clearance rate (number of charges being filed) compared to the national average?
Captain Herzog and Detective Reichenberg gave a presentation on the homicide unit to our citizens academy recently. They shared some brief statistics and walked us through how the homicide unit works. To shed some light on the questions above, the national average clearance rate is about 57%. Baltimore falls just under that at about 55% (though the PD spokesman recently cited a clearance rate of 51%, a “marked improvement” from last year.) As for prosecution, there is a 95% conviction rate. There are two ways for a homicide to be “cleared” or solved. One is termed “cleared by arrest,” while the other is cleared “exceptionally”-a suspect was identified but has been killed.
The homicide unit consists of roughly (because my notes are not clear…woops!) one Major, one Captain, two Shift Lieutenants, a Lieutenant overseeing cold cases, 12 Sergeants and 60 detectives. The homicide unit covers all shootings (not just homicides). They also have an overdose task force with a sergeant and four detectives who track and catalog every case, both fatal and non-fatal. They are also involved in investigating non-parental abductions and threats to politicians.
The homicide unit will respond to any questionable death investigation, for example, any time someone dies in their house, or any child deaths. When a deceased individual is found with no information as to what happened, the homicide unit will investigate. They will work with forensics to gather any evidence and look for any obvious signs of foul play. Arriving on the scene, they treat every call like a murder and explained that they have “only one shot at a scene.” They will then await the medical examiner’s findings (autopsies are usually done the next morning). The medical examiner then decides if a case needs to be opened. If it is a big case and becomes well-known in the media, it is termed a “red ball.”
Each case has a primary and secondary detective. Detectives keep their cases until they retire, at which point, the secondary detective inherits the case. Once the secondary officer retires, it becomes a cold case.
As mentioned above, there is one lieutenant overseeing cold cases. He or she will follow up with family members and serve as a liaison to follow up on any new leads.
Herzog and Reichenberg also discussed the personal experience of homicide officers responding to a call. They acknowledged that the deaths they are investigating affect so many people and that they often have to compartmentalize their work. They find it especially hard when dealing with the deaths of children and the elderly, and said it is “hard not to take things home.” Counseling and other resources are available to officers as needed for their psychological well-being. Herzog and Reichenberg also talked about peer pressure which could be helpful in that they will call each other out if they see someone is burnt out and not pulling their weight. This peer pressure was described as good and bad, often giving them the drive to keep them going.
About 95% of homicides are gang and drug related. The biggest obstacle noted in solving crimes has been witness intimidation, though tips through Metro Crime Stoppers have been helpful.
While writing this post, news hit that that one of BPD’s homicide detectives has been been shot and killed while working a case off-duty. An 18-year veteran of the force, he leaves behind five children.