NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 24, 2008

Witnesses to murders and other violent crimes refuse to cooperate in law enforcement investigations with such regularity that their silence is driving down the rate of solved murders throughout the country, police officials say.

For example:

  • According to a survey of 76 police agencies released this month by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police advocacy group, 78 percent cited a decreased willingness to testify among witnesses and 45 percent reported a drop in the rate of solved cases.
  • Even as violent crime plunged to historic lows during the past decade, authorities say the murder clearance rate also dropped -- from a high of 69 percent in 1998 to 60 percent in 2006, the last full year measured by the FBI (a case is cleared when there is an arrest, the suspect is charged and the case is referred for prosecution).

FBI spokesman John Miller says criminals have successfully "marketed a climate of fear" in some places to silence potential witnesses.  Cities in which police cite persistent problems with witness cooperation:

  • In Minneapolis, Police Chief Tim Dolan says investigators encounter reluctant witnesses in 30 percent of murder investigations and more than 5o percent of other violent crime inquiries.
  • In Washington, incidents of witness intimidation were up 45 percent last year, says Cynthia Wright, chief of the local U.S. attorney's Victim-Witness Assistance Unit.
  • In Boston, Police Commissioner Ed Davis says witnesses' fear of retaliation was directly related to low murder clearance rates that hovered near 38 percent in 2006.
  • To bolster public cooperation, Davis says the department installed an anonymous text-messaging system last year. It strips off the identity of the senders, who provide initial leads in building criminal cases.

Source: Kevin Johnson, "Witness Troubles Stymie Police," USA Today, March 23, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Government Issues