As the number of homicides dropped in New York City in the 1990s, so, too, did the percentage of murders considered solved. But in boroughs outside Manhattan with a large number of homicides involving minority victims, the number of unsolved cases is dramatically higher. In those cases where the race is known, New York City police have solved twice as many murders involving white victims — 86 percent — as they have ones with black victims — 45 percent, according to a New York Daily News analysis. The percent of solved crimes with Hispanic victims is also much lower at 54 percent.
This is in part because of drastic cuts to detective budgets that have fallen predominantly on particular precincts. Across the city, as the number of detectives dropped from 7,151 down to 5,137, the number of homicide squad detectives was cut in half to 74. A squad for cold cases was once 50 people but is now just eight. Many retired in the years following the 9/11 attacks. But many others were shifted to other priorities, either to the newly developed counter-terrorism unit, or to handling lower-level crimes such as petty larceny.
In the 63rd precinct, Dustin Yeates was killed last year while standing outside an East Flatbush club and his case remains unsolved. His mother, Donna Rayside, has contributed $8,000 of her own money to the $10,000 reward available for information about the murder. Yeates is one of many unsolved murders in that precinct, which has resources astronomically lower than Manhattan for solving crimes. It has just 12 detectives who handled about 1,500 cases on all crimes. And it has 1.5 detectives devoted to eight homicides, as compared to rates from five to 26 detectives per homicide in Manhattan. Rayside believes cops sweep murders like this under the rug as just “one black guy against another,” she told the New York Daily News.
The race disparity tracks those in other facets of the criminal justice system. In 2013, 32 of the 39 executions involved a white victim, while just one white person was executed for killing only a black man.
But the total decline of homicide detective resources has also contributed to the problem. Officers re-assigned to smaller crimes can yield more measurable results by netting people for small crimes like marijuana possession, even if those stops and arrests do little to make the city safer.
And “solved” in this context means that police have cleared the case by identifying a suspect, who will then be charged and have the chance to defend himself. Police have rightly pointed out that, public pressure notwithstanding, it is better to have no suspect at all than the wrong suspect.