An Arresting Situation: Illinois' murder clearance rate is lowest in the nation

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A homicide is considered clear if at least one person is arrested, formerly charged and handed over to a court of law for trial. That process is happening less in Illinois than any other state in the country.

"We literally watched him die out on the porch"
Bonnie Butera buried her only son in August of 2008. Jeremy Butera was shot while sitting on his porch.

"They tell you your son is deceased and your whole world just stops" Mike Delgado was a Winnebago County Corrections Officer when he learned his teenage son Alex was shot to death while walking home from a friend's house in July 2007.

Nineteen year old Joshua Range of Rochelle was stabbed to death at Summerdale Park in Rockford in 2002 while expecting to meet an online date. "They say it gets better, it doesn't," Joshua's Mom Julie Range told 23 News back in 2010, "It eats away at you. When he died, your life does change"

All three were interviewed by Mike Garrigan 7 years ago; and, even today, none have found closure.

"As a parent you have a void in your heart that can never be filled," said Delgado today. "Each day is better. But even for the years that my son has passed, you still have that hollowness."

And unfortunately the Butera, Delgado and Range families are not alone. "In 2016 the FBI estimates that 59% of all murders were cleared through arrests," said Murder Accountability Project (MAP) founder Thomas Hargrove. "That's the lowest clearance rate in United States history and one of the lowest clearance rates in the Western World"

The Murder Accountability Project is a non-profit organization created to improve counting for homicides in the U.S. "Illinois, i can't say it often enough is a great place to commit murder, unfortunately. No state does a poorer job than Illinois at making at least one arrest for murders", said Hargrove.

According to MAP data from 1980-2016, the state with the best clearance rate is Wyoming at 86%. That's followed by Maine and North Carolina; both at over 81%. Our neighbors to the north, Wisconsin, have made arrests on more than 79% of it's homicides. On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan has just under a 49% clearance rate; good for second worst in the country. But Michigan is still nearly three times better than Illinois's recorded rate of 17.52 %.

"The clearance rate is just awful," said Hargrove. But we really aren't sure just how awful it is, because the clearance rate data in Illinios is incomplete. "Illinois is the only state in the nation that doesn't report clearance information to the department of justice."

Hargrove says the state stopped reporting homicide clearance reports to the FBI in 1994. So the only complete information on Illinois we have since then is a two year study by MAP themselves. That shows a clearance rate in Illinois of 37.3 % in 2015, easily the lowest in the nation.

But while the true Illinois numbers are hard to gage, that's not the case in Rockford. "Rockford is our star in Illinois in terms of reporting data," says Hargrove. "Rockford is in recent years the only police department in Illinois that's been reporting complete information."

And it just so happens 2015 was Rockford's worst year for homicide clearance rate in recent memory. That year the city made arrests on just two out of 19 murders. It was at that time the department made an important change.

"What we saw out prior to 2015 was decentralizing the detective bureau," said Rockford Police Lieutenant Kurt Whisenand. "In 2016 when we re-centralized the bureau, and we made 5 more murder arrests from 2015 alone."

Whisenand says their data shows that arrests have been made in 72% of Rockford homicides over the past 20 years. "We say all the time that the community engagement is by far the biggest key to any successful conclusion to a murder investigation."

And Hargrove agrees, saying the national numbers show a commitment to community policing works. "When somebody ends up dead, a community policing department is going to have a good idea who the usual suspects might be because hopefully you are on a first-name basis with that element of the population that might commit a crime."

They get to know us. We aren't robots, " says Whisenand. "It's an ongoing trust-building focus, and it's paid off in those solve rates."

Hargrove says another common denominator for state's with poor clearance rates is fiscal instability; which leads to a lack of law enforcement resources. "Homicide is like any other kind of war. If you don't have sufficient boots on the ground and soldiers in the field, you're not going to win. And we're not winning."

Whisenand promises to keep fighting that war, "As long as there's information or a lead to follow up on, we will continue to work those murders until we get an arrest"

With the goal of providing some sort of peace for families like the Delgado's "A little bit more of my heart to heal. I can't say it will ever heal 100%, but a little bit more of the heart to heal."

Whisenand says that in Rockford. The police department has a great relationship with the mayor's office and city council who have provided us with a lot of the resources that they need and request.