After a challenging start to the year for the NOPD Homicide Unit, the rate of homicides being solved is now on the increase. The solve rate —which includes cases cleared by arrests, warrants and exceptions —is at 57 percent, compared to five months ago when the solve rate sat at 27 percent.
The Homicide Unit — consisting of 26 members including supervisors — is responsible for investigating all homicides that occur in the city of New Orleans. However, the unit also responds to all major shootings, suicides and unclassified deaths to assist the district investigative units.
In the beginning of January, the unit faced the challenge of investigating 23 murders in just 31 days. Then, in February, there were roughly 14 murders. The trend continued through June of this year.
“So, we got pounded in the beginning of the year, but our detectives never lost focus,” said Criminal Investigations Division Commander Doug Eckert.
Eckert has been the commander over all criminal investigations, including the Homicide Division, since 2015. He said there are many factors that have contributed to the success in the solve rate, but the biggest is that each detective and member of the unit remained diligent during the rough months.
“These detectives put their best foot forward even though at times they’re frustrated and they feel inundated with the amount of work that they do have,” said Eckert. It’s not like writing a one page report, there is plenty that’s involved in this.”
Grappling with Increase in Homicides
It’s no secret that a wave of gun violence struck parts of the city of New Orleans. During the uptick, the homicide unit was swiftly shifting from case to case. Lt. Jimmie Turner, who commands the unit, said one of the reasons that contributed to the high murder rate in the beginning of the year was the increase of bodies on each case.
“We’re used to experiencing one homicide body per case, but during the course of the uptick, we experienced multiple bodies,” said Turner. “We had an uptick in the double and the triple homicides in the early part of this year.”
Although the solve rate and clearance rate is likely to vary given the number of homicides that can occur between now and the rest of the year, NOPD’s solve rate currently remains at 57 percent while the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) clearance rate as determined by the FBI's formula stands at 52 percent.
The UCR clearance rate only includes homicide cases cleared by arrest and cleared by exception. However, the warrants are not included in the FBI’s formula, which contributes to the slight variance in the solve and clearance rates.
In July, Chief Michael Harrison announced the results of a massive multi-agency round-up called Operation NOLA Clean-Up. The round-up resulted in the arrest of 81 offenders and the clearance of 125 arrest warrants. Out of those arrest warrants, four suspects wanted for murder were arrested during the aggressive sweep of violent offenders, resulting in four homicide cases being cleared by arrest.
Never Lost Focus
Outside of NOPD’s recent string of arrests, Lt. Turner developed an internal team within the homicide unit that critically analyzed investigations that weren’t cleared by warrants or solved by other means. The inner unit consists of four detectives and two sergeants who were responsible for meeting and interviewing other detectives regarding the status of open murder investigations.
“We took the fresh eye approach to see if anything was missed and if anything still needs to be done,” said Turner.
Eckert said that that due diligence has shown within the unit over the last three months, as detectives revisit and clear cases from the beginning of the year.
“We’ve cleared some of these cases from 2016 and that’s important because they don’t stop,” said Eckert.
However, Eckert said the work that detectives and supervisors have put into each investigation as a team hasn’t diminished what they’ve done the previous three months.
“It takes time and their work is showing,” said Eckert. “One detective puts his or her name on a case report, and certainly, they get the credit in their investigation, but we do this as a team.”
In most cases, the district’s investigative units are the first to respond and investigate a homicide scene. Often times, they’re passing along valuable information to the assigned detectives during the initial stages of the investigation. Whether it is assisting in rounding up suspects wanted for murder or gathering evidence from a scene, Eckert says strong relationships with the gang unit and all eight districts have all aided in the consistent improvement on the homicide clearance rate.
Eckert also says the solve rate wouldn’t be where it is without the willingness from community members that assist in providing vital information. Just this week, detectives made an arrest in a triple homicide that occurred in March in the 6700 block of Brutus Street that took the life of two adult males and one adult female.
“When our one victim or our two victims aren’t able to tell us anything, we count on the public, we count on families and we count on friends to bring us that information,” said Eckert. “The people we speak with on a crime scene or after we leave a crime scene is just as important as the evidence we find on scene.”
Homicide detectives are consistently working hand and hand with the District Attorney’s Office helping to obtain as much evidence and testimony as possible to bolster a case against violent perpetrators that will lead to more convictions.
“For case detectives, they want to put the right person in jail, but they also want to bring the best possible case to the District Attorney’s Office,” said Eckert.
“There’s no one person that does this by themselves, it’s a team effort,” he said.