I-Team investigation reveals some Bay Area cities fail to solve most homicides

An I-Team investigation has revealed a startling fact that criminals have a very good chance of getting away with murder in several Bay Area cities. Those police departments do a poor job of solving homicide cases, compared to other departments around the bay and the nation. The I-Team's Dan Noyes has been crunching the numbers.

Someone is thinking right now, "You shouldn't talk about this because you'll give a bad guy an idea." Experts say the best thing to do is expose the problem and pressure police departments, public officials and voters to take action.

No one should have to hold their best friend as he dies from a gunshot wound, but that's what Espanosa Matthews did, almost one year ago.

"About 10 or 20 shots went off," Matthews said. "He was shaking, that's all I know, and that was it. I let him go and walked out. I couldn't stay there."

Matthews says 16-year-old Rodney Frazier was a good kid who stayed out of trouble; he had no interest in gangs. He loved basketball and riding dirt bikes. He was still wearing his motorcycle helmet when he stumbled into the bushes and died at the home he shared with his grandfather.

At the time of his death, Richmond police called it a case of mistaken identity. Rodney's grandfather hasn't heard a word from authorities since.

"We raised him ever since he was two months old," said Frazier's grandfather Hozie Evans.

Evans: "It would make me feel a lot better."

Noyes: "If they found the guy?"
Evans: "Yeah, if they found out who did it. Yeah."

Rodney Frazier's death is among the almost 230,000 unsolved homicides in this country since 1980.

"I mean, it's like a war. In fact, you count homicide as a conflict, the murders committed since 1980 are one of the worst wars that America has ever experienced," said Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project.

Hargove launched the Murder Accountability Project with a group of retired FBI investigators, criminologists, and investigative reporters.

Their data shows nearly 90 percent of murders were solved in 1965. Now, that number has dropped to about 60 percent, largely because the types of murders have changed -- fewer crimes of passion.

"We are less likely because of better intervention techniques to kill a spouse or girlfriend, so what are left are some kinds of murders that are more difficult to solve," Hargrove said.

Such as gang or drug-related killings, murders of strangers, or for monetary gain.

Hargrove's data shows several police departments around the Bay Area are doing a bad job of investigating homicides.

These are the cities with the most homicides from 2009 to 2013, ranked by how well they solve murders -- the clearance rate. In Richmond, where Rodney died, there were 128 killings, but just 32 percent of them have been cleared. That's the same as Vallejo, with 84 homicides and only 32 percent of them solved. The worst is East Palo Alto that had 35 murders, with just 8.5 percent solved. You can check out the full list here.

"If you really study the problem, how can you not have a sense of outrage?" Hargrove said.

There is hope. Oakland had the most homicides of any Bay Area city in that five year time frame -- 515 killings, and cleared just 212, 41-percent.

Oakland's homicide detectives were overwhelmed. The FBI stepped in to help.

"We're not coming in to take over. We're not coming in to say we're better. We're coming to say, 'How can we help? How can we make a difference?'" said Bertram Fairies of the FBI.

The FBI has assigned five agents fulltime and has many others on call. They're building a command center at the Oakland Police Department so agents can work in the same space as police detectives.

Dan Noyes saw firsthand this past Friday how the project is working. After a brutal torture gang hit, the task force launched six simultaneous pre-dawn raids, arresting 15 suspected gang members, confiscating an automatic rifle with 100-round drum, pistols, cocaine, heroin, and pounds of marijuana at a grow house.

"There's no way we could've pulled off an operation of this magnitude without our federal partners," said Capt. Erise Joyner of the Oakland Police Department.

In the past few months of the joint project, Oakland's homicide clearance rate has jumped to more than 60 percent.

"I don't want this to be like, 'Oh wow, the FBI came in and did something magical.' No, the FBI just came in and along with those detectives, with the increased personnel, it just gave them additional resources to focus on the problem," Fairies said.

That's the key. It takes manpower and a lot of overtime in those crucial 48 hours after a killing. The experts say police chiefs have to help those victims' families and make these cases a priority, and politicians and voters need to give departments the resources they need.

This story is based on numbers that local agencies report to the FBI. But, Richmond police called the I-Team late today to say the FBI missed some of theirs, and their clearance rate is actually 47 percent, not 32 percent. Either way, there is still a lot of work to do.

Click here to see the Bay Area police department murder clearance numbers.
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