LAPD Closed Homicide Cases without Bringing Killers to Justice, Analysis Shows

By Reicher, Mike | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), January 24, 2015 | Go to article overview

LAPD Closed Homicide Cases without Bringing Killers to Justice, Analysis Shows


Reicher, Mike, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


Officials in the Los Angeles Police Department's San Fernando Valley Bureau reported they solved 63 percent of homicide cases over 11 years - a significantly better track record than the rest of the LAPD and many other law enforcement agencies reported.

But many of those cases were solved without a single arrest being made. In others, suspects were arrested but never faced a jury. Officials failed to bring the killers to justice.

Instead, 122 Valley murders - and 474 in the rest of the LAPD - were shelved, some using technicalities. Overall, LAPD detectives closed cases this way at a rate more than double that of the national average, according to a Los Angeles News Group analysis of 11 years of LAPD homicide case data and FBI statistics.

This book work left killers at large and families of murder victims without answers. Some in law enforcement call it "solving crimes by eraser."

* VIDEO: Behind the numbers

Ernesto Cardenas was 26 years old in 2008 when he was shot to death in Arleta. Police arrested three suspects, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute, citing a lack of evidence. After that, the LAPD closed the case and took credit for solving a homicide.

"How is it closed when there's nobody in jail?" asked Jose Aguayo, 34, who tried to resuscitate Cardenas as he lay dying in his driveway. "My cousin is in a cemetery, but these guys are walking free."

Cardenas's murder was one of 596 homicide cases from 2000 through 2010 that the LAPD has classified as "cleared other" - cop speak for solving a crime without arresting and filing charges against a suspect. Unlike in the Cardenas case, many of the suspects were never even arrested.

The LAPD cleared some of these cases because the D.A. declined to prosecute, but when asked for the reason each case was cleared, police officials did not respond. The data excludes fatal shootings by officers.

Out of all homicides for which the LAPD provided the Los Angeles News Group a case status, 11.5 percent fell into this "cleared other" category. The national average was 4.9 percent, according to FBI statistics from 2011 through 2013, the only published years. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department didn't classify any cases this way.

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When agencies voluntarily report their crime-solving statistics to the FBI, they are supposed to only count a crime solved, or "cleared," if they make an arrest, or if they have identified an offender and have enough evidence for an arrest but can't for a reason outside their control. The classic example is a murder- suicide, in which the suspect is dead.

LAPD officials say they follow FBI guidelines when clearing cases. But others outside the agency say they are interpreting the FBI standards incorrectly.

"They should not let the prosecutors dictate if they solve a case," said Cassia Spohn, professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. "It really confuses the role of the police and the prosecutor."

* Database: Los Angeles County's Unsolved Homicides

The LAPD Detective Operations Manual says that clearing a case, by arrest or by other methods, "means that the detective has solved the crime and has taken all possible, appropriate action against at least one suspect."

The Sheriff's Department keeps cases open unless someone is actually prosecuted, said Lt. Mike Rosson of the Homicide Bureau. He said his department strictly follows the FBI rules.

"If we can't give a family closure through prosecution, why would we want to call it solved? …

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