‘Astronomical’ caseload hard to crack

The number of homicide cases solved in San Francisco lags behind the national average of cities of a similar size, despite a number of crime-fighting initiatives, including more officers, gunshot-location technology, crime cameras and $250,000 rewards.

San Francisco police have “cleared,” or closed, 38 percent of the 327 homicides reported since the beginning of 2005, according to Police Department data provided to The Examiner.

The highest rate of slayings solved in one year was 45 percent in 2006. The national average for like-sized cities in the same year, the most recent average available, was 52.3 percent.

“It’s unquestionably low. It’s unacceptably low. It’s frustratingly low,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said Thursday, adding that for the last decade, the clearance rate has been low. “The only way you’re going to begin to solve homicide clearance rates — the only way — is with community support.”

Last year, The City’s homicide rate was the highest it has been in a decade, with 98 cases reported. Police officials point out that crime is down and arrests are up in virtually every other category. Homicides, however, have defied that trend.

“We’re not satisfied,” said Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman, who recently was promoted after years in the investigations bureau.

“In a perfect world, we’d have 100 percent homicide clearance. Homicide inspectors work every day to achieve that goal.”

With the arrest of a murder suspect Thursday, police say they have solved 10 of 48 cases reported in 2008.

“It’s not a passing grade as far as I’m concerned,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee. “It sends the wrong message that people can get away with murder.”

Homicide cases are considered cleared when police identify a suspect and make an arrest. In exceptional circumstances, such as the death of the main suspect, a case may be cleared, according to the uniform crime reporting standards determined by the FBI. The numbers don’t reflect if a suspect is convicted in a court of law.

San Francisco currently has 20 investigators working in the Police Department’s homicide detail, with three on the verge of retirement, homicide Lt. Mike Stasko told supervisors in April.

Inspectors are required to double up on each homicide case, leaving each team trying to solve about 20 killings from the last three and a half years. And with the hundreds of unsolved cases from before 2005, the work schedule and caseload is “astronomical,” Stasko said.

Other challenges to solving homicides faced by the Police Department include a lack of witness cooperation due to a fear of retaliation.

The police, Mirkarimi said, are “not creating the ability to harvest trustor the ability to get witnesses to come forward.”

Additionally, once a case is solved, an investigator spends weeks in court with prosecutors during the trial instead of working on an open case.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Examiner Staff Writer David Smith contributed to this report.

Vigils spotlight unsolved cases, reopen wounds

On the night of Sept. 3, 2005, Brian Marquez ducked out of a party to grab some tacos. His killer was waiting with a bullet. He died shortly after with a punctured lung.

Every year, his parents and sister, Norma Marquez, memorialize the slaying of the 20-year-old with a candlelight vigil in the Mission district.

The memory of his death has not faded, since nobody has been brought to justice.

Like hundreds of other unsolved homicide cases in San Francisco, Marquez’s killing has left the family with an open emotional wound.

Despite a $250,000 re-ward, nobody has come forward to offer information.

“Most of the information comes from people on the streets,” Norma Marquez said.

“Neighbors hear things. We honestly think people are just too scared,” she said.

There have been 327 homicides since 2005; the percentage of homicide cases that have been “cleared” or closed is 38 percent.

High-profile cases, such as the Jan. 12 killing of Terrell “Terray” Rogers outside of his daughter’s Sacred Heart basketball game, also remain unsolved.

Despite a reward, camerafootage from a nearby church and plenty of pressure from city leaders, the killing of the 39-year-old peacekeeper remains a mystery.

— Brent Begin

Bay Area NewsLocal

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