Solving Homicides: The Influence of Neighborhood Characteristics and Investigator Caseload

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Solving Homicides: The
Influence of Neighborhood
Characteristics and
Investigator Caseload
Charles A. LoFaso
The primary theoretical perspectives through which homicide clearance is analyzed do not give
explicit attention to the neighborhood context in which people are victimized. Indeed, few clearance
studies incorporate neighborhood effects. This study investigates whether neighborhood context
influences the odds of homicide clearance in Rochester, NY, net of theoretically relevant victim and
incident characteristics. The study also incorporates a direct measure of investigator caseload to
assess the influence of organizational characteristics on clearance rates. Findings indicate that
homicides, particularly of Black victims, were significantly more likely to be cleared in disadvantaged
neighborhoods even as witnesses were less likely to cooperate with police in those neighborhoods.
However, the odds of clearance decrease as the number of open cases each investigator is carrying
increases. Case incident characteristics and the quality of evidence collected remain salient solva-
bility factors regardless of location. Equally important is maintaining adequate staffing and keeping
investigator caseloads at manageable levels. Heavy caseloads impose a significant constraint on the
time that can be devoted to otherwise solvable cases and as such are analogous to the constraints
imposed on prosecutors and courts by their typically heavy caseloads.
investigator caseload, homicide clearance, concentrated disadvantage
Homicide clearance is typically analyzed through two theoretical lenses: victim devaluation and
event characteristics. Victim devaluation, which draws on Black’s Behavior of Law (1976) for its
theoretical insights, contends that the state’s investigative effort is influenced by the social status of
both the victim and the offender. Homicides of victims of lower social status that are committed by
offenders occupying the same social space are perceived to be less worthy of investigative effort and
thus less likely to be both properly investigated and solved. Conversely, the event characteristics
Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Charles A. LoFaso, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, 238 Townshend Hall, 1885 Neil Avenue Mall,
Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(1) 84-103
ª2019 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819874395
perspective contends that work group norms motivate investigators to attempt to solve each case they
are assigned, regardless of the victim’s social status. Thus, only nondiscretionary incident variables,
for example, the presence of a witnesses or the type of homicide (e.g., murder of a domestic partner
vs. a stranger during a robbery), influence the odds of whether a homicide is cleared.
While the incident characteristics perspective receives greater empirical support in the literature
(see, e.g., Alderden & Lavery, 2007; Litwin, 2004; Regoeczi & Jarvis, 2013; Rydberg & Pizarro,
2014), neither perspective gives explicit attention to the neighborhood context in which people are
victimized and police investigate, although Borg and Parker’s (2001) application of Black’s theory
to a city-level analysis of homicide clearance rates is an important exception. Overall, few
clearance studies incorporate neighborhood effects. This could be a consequential omission as
recent studies incorporating neighborhood characteristics into their analyses show an association
between concentrated disadvantage and the odds of clearance. For example, Regoeczi and Jarvis
(2013) find the positive effect of witnesses on the odds of clearance is lower in more disadvan-
taged neighborhoods in Cleveland; Mancik, Parker, and Williams (2018) find that neighborhood
levels of concentrated disadvantage were negatively associated with clearance in Chicago, while
Petersen (2017) finds a positive association between neighborhood-level concentrated disadvan-
tage and clearance in Los Angeles.
Utilizing a rich data set of 582 homicides occurring over 15 years in Rochester, NY, a city
comparable to Chicago and Cleveland in per capita rates of homicide, this study analyzes as its
first area of inquiry whether neighborhood context influences homicide clearance rates net of
theoretically relevant victim and incident characteristics. Neighborhoods have criminological con-
sequences, as social scientists have long observed variation in rates of crime and violence across
neighborhoods (Krivo, Peterson, & Kuhl, 2009; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Shaw &
McKay, 1969; Velez, Krivo, & Peterson, 2003). Studies utilizing a social disorganization framework
establish that disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to have higher rates of violent crimes, including
homicide (Kirk & Papachristos, 2011; Krivo & Peterson, 1996; Sampson et al., 1997). Reviewing
two meta-analyses covering the period from 1995 to 2006, Sampson and Bean (2006, p. 11) note that
“concentrated disadvantage is the largest and most consistent predictor of violence across studies.”
Moreover, disadvantaged neighborhoods have criminological consequences beyond the produc-
tion of violence. Kirk and Matsuda (2011) find that residents in Chicago neighborhoods with
predominantly Black residents are less likely to report crimes, including violent crimes, and perpe-
trators are significantly less likely to be arrested. Thus, as the recent homicide clearance studies
incorporating neighborhood characteristics suggest, neighborhood context may be consequential not
only for the production of violence but also for the outcome of the homicide investigation. On the
other hand, is homicide, being a relatively rare but highly serious crime due to sudden loss of life,
comparatively immune to the effects of concentrated disadvantage and cynical views of the law
often found in poor, segregated neighborhoods?
As a second area of inquiry, the study investigates whether organizat ional characteristics as
reflected in investigator caseloads influence the odds of clearance. Specifically, does the number
of open cases each investigator is carrying influence the odds of clearance? To test this question, the
research incorporates a direct measure of investigator caseload, that is, the number of open cases
each investigator is carrying at the time they are assigned their next homicide. The inclusion of an
open case variable adds another dimension to the analysis not generally found in the homicide
clearance literature, as studies incorporating neighborhood variables have utilized a proxy for
investigator workload, for example, the area homicide rate (Litwin, 2004), an index of victimization
(Mancik, Parker, & Williams, 2018), or number of homicides or serious violent offenses per sworn
officer (Mancik & Parker, 2018; Ousey & Lee, 2010; Petersen, 2017; Roberts, 2015).
This study makes an important contribution to the homicide clearance literature by providing a
more comprehensive analysis of clearance rates due to the inclusion of neighborhood, victim, and
LoFaso 85

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