Philadelphia PD cites 'crushing' volume of homicides as cold cases remain unsolved

In 2021, the city saw 562 homicides – the highest number Philadelphia has ever seen, with more than half of its cases going unsolved


By Anne Berleant

PHILADELPHIA — A rise in unsolved homicides nationwide combined with a critical shortage of police officers has left many cold cases unsolved, according to CBS News. And like many major U.S. cities, this holds true in Philadelphia. 

“We just keep going and going and going,” Philadelphia Detective Joe Murray said. “It’s just the volume … it just crushes you.” 

In 2021, the city saw 562 homicides – the highest number Philadelphia has ever seen, with more than half of its cold cases going unsolved. That’s a far cry from the 1950s, when about 90% of homicides were solved, according to FBI data analyzed by CBS and the Murder Accountability Project (MAP). 

The homicide clearance rate “is directly related to the rate at which murders occur,” MAP’s Thomas Hargrove told CBS. “So when killers increasingly are walking the street, the rate of murder rises.” This rise in unsolved cases, Thomas continues, has “never been this bad.” 

Danielle Outlaw, the first Black commissioner to lead the Philadelphia Police Department, told CBS that the agency has “to look at who crime impacts the hardest and the most.” And according to Outlaw, it’s “in communities where people look like me.”  

“We don’t pick and choose which cases fall in our lap. [What] we need is a collaborative effort in solving these cases and an acknowledgment to what I think is there now … that it’s going to take more than the police to clear these cases,” Outlaw continued.  

As it stands currently, there have been 254 homicides in the city to date – with more than half unsolved.  

But Outlaw says her department’s homicide detectives haven’t lost their passion. 

“We live this. My phone rings throughout the night,” she said. “I respond to the scenes. Same thing with our homicide detectives, everybody.”   

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