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St. Louis police credit cameras, communication as homicide clearance rate jumps to 75%

Police Lt. Blaskiewicz said the homicide clearance is partly due to the growing number of surveillance cameras and better communication across the department


So far this year, St. Louis homicide detectives have recorded a clearance rate of 75%.

St. Louis Police

By Kim Bell
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Police Lt. John Blaskiewicz starts his days early, arriving in the city’s Homicide Division to pore over the latest statistics.

Papers on his office wall provide rules for reporting on delayed deaths and guidance on how to meet federal guidelines for counting cases as solved.

“We are immersed in numbers,” said Blaskiewicz, who has been the city’s homicide commander since September. “In all of the detective work I’ve done in the past, the numbers people care about (most) are homicide numbers.”

In police parlance, when a case is resolved, it qualifies as “cleared.” So far this year, St. Louis homicide detectives have recorded a clearance rate of 75%.

The number is bound to fluctuate before year’s end, and it likely will dip in the summer, when murders typically spike. But as of the beginning of June, the clearance rate is on pace to be the best here in two decades.

“We’re running fairly strong,” Blaskiewicz said in an interview. “We’ve been holding steady at that rate, which is great. The goal is to try to keep it that high or even raise it by the end of the year.”

Homicide clearance rates are perhaps the most crucial metric for measuring a police department’s success at crime-solving — especially in a city like St. Louis, where yearly murder rates are consistently among the highest in the country.

Police don’t offer a single reason for this year’s improvement, but Blaskiewicz said it’s due in part to the growing number of surveillance cameras throughout the city and better communication across the department.

Clearances are more than just a simple yardstick for how many of the current year’s homicides were solved. A clearance rate gives detectives credit for solving old cases. And the rate includes instances where police are confident they have the killer but prosecutors refuse to file charges, put the case on hold or tell detectives to do more investigative work.

Clearance rates show the public how police departments and prosecutors respond to crime, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a former president of the American Society of Criminology. Low clearance rates for violent crimes like murder leave dangerous people on the street, he added, while higher rates signal enforcement and investigation strategies are working.

“We need a full year of data,” Rosenfeld said, “but thus far, the clearance rate is heartening.”

David Carter, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, also was impressed last week by St. Louis’ numbers. Carter has written extensively on clearance rates, including authoring a report for the U.S. Justice Department titled “Best Practices for Increasing Homicide Clearances.”

The city’s clearance rate, hovering at 75%, “is very good,” Carter said. He said it’s about 20 percentage points higher than the national average.


St. Louis’ highest homicide clearance rate on record was about 103%, recorded in 1988 — meaning more cases were solved than murders committed.

The highest rate in the past 20 years was in 2003, when the Homicide Division’s annual “cleanup,” or clearance rate, was 81%. But that year, the city had just 74 total homicides; for comparison, the city reported 70 homicides through just the first five months of this year.

The low point for clearance rates in the past several decades in St. Louis was 2020, when the city saw a surge of killings during the pandemic and police reported solving just 38% of homicides.

According to numbers released Friday by the St. Louis Police Department, homicide detectives have solved 34 of the 72 homicides in the city so far this year. But this year’s clearance rate also includes 20 homicides that were committed in previous years — standard practice according to FBI guidelines. When a suspect dies in a murder-suicide, for example, that too counts as a clearance.

The oldest cold case police said they solved this year — again, without charges — was the 1996 death of Donald Hill, gunned down on Carr Lane. A tip led police to a suspect, but prosecutors want more follow-up. Still, police put that case in the “cleared” column.

The Post-Dispatch filed Sunshine Law requests with the department to obtain internal clearance reports that list each case that was cleared and its status. In at least seven homicide clearances this year, police arrested the person they are convinced is the killer, but the Circuit Attorney’s Office refused to file charges.

Refusals have been a point of contention in St. Louis, where former Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner and city police were often at loggerheads. New Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore was sworn in last week after Gardner’s surprise resignation in May.

St. Louis’ method of counting clearances — namely, counting instances where charges weren’t issued — is standard practice for police departments across the country, Carter said.

“A ‘clearance by arrest’ means that the police department developed sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for an arrest,” Carter said. “Hence, the crime is cleared for statistical purposes. A prosecutor may not feel they have enough evidence to meet the burden of ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ in a trial so decline prosecution or enter a settlement for a lesser offense. Either way, that has no effect on the clearance by arrest.”

Blaskiewicz said St. Louis counts cases as cleared when a detective books a defendant on a murder charge and turns the case over to prosecutors. Nicole Porter Stewart, with the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said someone booked on suspicion would not clear the crime under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program; the person would have to be formally charged with a crime. Rosenfeld said St. Louis might be using a “more permissive” definition of clearance. It’s unclear how many other departments do the same.

One problem in analyzing clearance rates is that different agencies might be counting a clearance differently, said Thomas K. Hargrove, founder and chairman of the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project, which tracks unsolved homicides nationwide.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization, published a national report on homicide clearances by city in 2020. Its analysis found Flint, Michigan, was worst in the nation, solving just 2% of the city’s homicides. Other cities on the low end included Cleveland with 11%, Louisville with 24% and New York with 27%.

Cities on the high end included Milwaukee with 54%, Kansas City with 74% and San Francisco reporting a 75% clearance rate.

Last year, St. Louis reported a clearance rate of 58%, and 55% the year before. Since 2000, it’s had a clearance rate that was equal to or better than the national average six times; it’s reported a rate lower than the national average 15 times.


Blaskiewicz said he is pleased with the uptick in cases solved, and he analyzes numbers closely with Brad Mallet, administrative assistant for the Homicide Division.

“I think our clearance rate has improved for a variety of reasons,” Blaskiewicz said, including the explosion of surveillance cameras that police tap for leads. “Everybody and their brother has Ring doorbell cameras. So there are more chances to secure evidence.”

The Real Time Crime Center — a central location for police that has walls of screens showing live camera footage — was set up by the St. Louis Police Department in 2015, and the number of cameras has nearly tripled in five years.

Detectives working in the Real Time Crime Center have access to about 1,600 cameras owned by the Police Department, the city, businesses or neighborhood associations. (They don’t have access to private residential doorbell cameras, said department spokeswoman Evita Caldwell).

Police also use license-plate readers to search for vehicles wanted in connection with felonies. And increasingly often, the department’s communications staff turns to social media to post surveillance images or videos of suspects. One blurry surveillance photo of a person in a smiley face T-shirt, and a crucial police follow-up interview with a witness, helped detectives in last June’s killing of 31-year-old Brittney Young.

Those efforts, along with mobile device investigative technology, tips from CrimeStoppers and “old-fashioned police work have all played an important role in helping us clear cases fast,” Blaskiewicz added.

The proliferation of cameras helped St. Louis detectives solve the slaying of 18-year-old Corion Love, who was dropped off at a hospital with a gunshot wound to his back Sept. 30.

“We had nothing to go with” early on, Blaskiewicz said.

Police at first didn’t even know where the shooting happened.

“This is how difficult this case was — we just had a victim dropped off at Barnes Hospital in a black SUV vehicle,” Blaskiewicz said. “We believed, at the time, because of calls related to this case that (Love and others) were doing car break-ins.”

Detectives built their case over several months. The city has a bevy of surveillance cameras, and Blaskiewicz said detectives used those cameras, 911 calls, other forensic technology and search warrants to lead back to the suspect, 41-year-old Arnaud Jones. Blaskiewicz said Jones admitted firing shots from his apartment window toward people in a car because he suspected they had broken into his vehicle, which was parked on the street.

A double murder case from February stands out, Blaskiewicz said, because police solved it so quickly and used cameras and district detectives to aid the investigation. Tommy L. Williams was shot to death inside a residence at 1520 Pennsylvania Avenue, and his 3-year-old daughter Octavia was found strangled upstairs.

“Before we even left the crime scene, we were already behind the stolen car, and district officers assisted us with that,” Blaskiewicz said. “We solved that case within hours. The suspect was driving around in the father’s stolen car.”

Williams “most likely” was shot over a drug debt, Blaskiewicz said. The gunman “thought the little girl saw too much” so he went upstairs and strangled her, Blaskiewicz said. Henry Hughes, 55, who lived in the unit downstairs from the family, was charged the next day with two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.

St. Louis police showcase the current clearance rate in boldface type on its public portal, which updates each day with the year’s total homicide tally. Based on numbers provided by the department, year-end clearance rates since 2015 have ranged from the 30s to the 50s.

“Keep in mind,” Blaskiewicz said, “the volume of cases facing the Detective Bureau has a lot to do with the clearance rate in any given year.”

In 2020, when the number of homicides in the city ballooned to 263, the homicide commander that year, Lt. Scott Aubuchon, said each of his detectives was juggling about twice as many cases as FBI guidelines suggest. Aubuchon said killings typically are solved months later, and his detectives were still solving cases from the previous year.

Blaskiewicz, the city’s current homicide commander, normally sits down with detectives in the afternoon to discuss specific cases. But the mornings are for numbers. He makes sure commanders get the latest data, and that captains know the basics about the murders in their districts.

“My aide is looking at them just as strong as I am on a daily basis,” Blaskiewicz said. “It’s constant.”

One morning in late May, Blaskiewicz was finalizing a memo to his commander asking to add a couple of detectives and change up their work schedules. He said the bulk of the work in a homicide investigation happens during the day as officers seek medical records, autopsies and search warrants.

“It’s easier to get things done during the day,” Blaskiewicz said. “So we’re trying to put investigative teams at a minimum amount of manpower in the evening so we can have a maximum about of manpower in the day to investigate these crimes.”


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