A review of Louisville Metro Police Department’s open murder cases and historical homicide data shows that in recent years the city’s clearance rates hover around the national average.
There are currently 351 open murder cases in Louisville Metro, according to a photo archive of victims maintained by LMPD. Those records go back to 2005 — just a couple of years after the merger between the city of Louisville and Jefferson County government — and they detail the victim’s name, age, race, the location of their murder and, where available, a photo.
By compiling and averaging the information, Insider Louisville was able to understand the basic characteristics regarding the victim of an unsolved murder in Louisville: a 31-year-old black male, killed in the West End.
African-Americans by far comprise the biggest percentage of victims of unsolved murders, representing nearly 78.3 percent of the total number of cases, and despite making up just 23 percent of the metro population.
Whites were the second-largest race represented in the data, at 16.8 percent, a small figure compared to their majority share of the city’s population (about 71 percent). Latinos/Hispanics represented 4.3 percent of the unsolved cases, close to their 4.9 percent demographic share. The age of black victims also skewed younger than their white counterparts, 31 versus 39.
Males accounted for nearly 90 percent of victims.
Insider compared this data with state and federal figures on the annual number of murders in Jefferson County, to develop a sense of proportionality between the two data sets — specifically, the percentage of solved homicides relative to the total number of murders in a given year, the clearance rate.
The FBI has pretty strict definitions about which criteria constitute “clearance,” but here, we are simply dividing the number of LMPD-listed open cases into the total number of murders for that year, and subtracting that number from 1.
Here are the LMPD’s murder clearance rates for the past five years:
- 2018 (to date) — 56 percent cleared (29 unsolved murders out of 66 homicides)
- 2017 — 49.5 percent cleared (53 unsolved murders out of 105 homicides)
- 2016 — 61 percent cleared (46 unsolved murders out of 118 homicides)
- 2015 — 53.7 percent cleared (37 unsolved murders out of 80 homicides)
- 2014 — 74.5 percent cleared (14 unsolved murders out of 55 homicides)
The homicide figures were culled from a combination of Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports and annual state crime reporting by the Kentucky State Police and hosted by the LMPD. (Note: The years 2015-2018 used LMPD data to compensate for apparent inaccuracies with the FBI data, which was considered “preliminary” data when the source document was first released in June 2017)
Lt. Emily McKinley of LMPD’s Homicide Unit said that a variety of factors contribute to the dip in clearance rates for the past few years.
“Witness cooperation is paramount in solving many homicides, and sometimes that is difficult to come by,” McKinley said in a statement. “Also, clearance rates from past years are constantly increasing. So as time goes on, the clearance rate for any particular year will increase as those cases are solved. Some cases take years to solve, so I would expect 2016-2018 clearance rates to continue to rise in the coming years. It takes time for some witnesses to be found or even be willing to come forward. Also, any case involving DNA can take up to a year to get any results back, which can cause the case to remain open into the coming year or two.”
She also said that the case load of detectives also plays a role, as well.
The year of the lowest clearance rate, 2017, was also the year with the highest number of homicides, at 118, according to the data set. So an explanation for the lower-than-average rates could be directly proportional to the number of murders that happen in a given year in Louisville
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad has said that a major reason for unsolved murders in Louisville is that witnesses and possible informants are too scared to talk.
“We know that they have information about crime, but they’re fearful. We don’t see that in every neighborhood in our community,” Conrad said in June.
Here’s a chart depicting the number of recorded homicides in Louisville, going back to 1970:
The relatively low clearance rates aren’t unique to LMPD, however. Nationally, the clearance rates for homicide investigations have fallen drastically alongside record lows for violent crime. Over the last couple of years, the national homicide clearance rate dropped to about 59 percent, reportedly the lowest such rate since the FBI began tracking the issue.
And while Louisville’s clearance rates aren’t nearly as bad compared to some major cities with reputations for gun violence, such as New Orleans (28 percent clearance rate in 2016), they can be compared to others, such as Baltimore (51.3 percent cleared in 2017), depending on the year.
Earlier this year, LMPD’s Major Crimes Unit said that the department was looking to Atlanta as a model for improving Louisville’s murder clearance rate, among other things, following a report by The Washington Post, which mentioned Louisville’s low arrest rate for murders. The Post’s database tracked 576 murders over an eight-year period, with an average 55 percent clearance rate.
Readers with any information about these unsolved murders — or are dealing with grief related to a homicide — can visit this page maintained by the LMPD to both give and receive help.
Note: This story was updated to include a quote from LMPD Lt. Emily McKinley.