WHEN JEFFREY KELLY was shot to death outside of a Jamaica Plain convenience store, in August, few probably expected the murder of a panhandler in a wheelchair, which quickly faded from headlines, to get the kind of investigation that can lead to an arrest. So it was a surprise recently when Amos Carrasquillo was apprehended and indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm. After his arraignment, the 28-year-old Dorchester man was ordered held without bail.
Carrasquillo’s arrest came in the midst of a homicide-solving surge for the Boston Police Department, which has seen its success rate jump 10 percent over a two-year period. With a grant from the US Bureau of Justice Assistance Smart Policing Initiative in 2012, the police department overhauled its homicide unit, adding civilian staff and investigators as well as beefing up its training and technology. It also brought in Northeastern University researchers to evaluate the results.
After trailing many other cities in cracking murder cases, Boston achieved a homicide-clearance rate that hit 57 percent between 2012 and 2014. Last year, 61 percent of Boston’s 38 homicides were solved, the highest rate in five years. (A murder case is considered cleared by police when a suspect has been charged, or if the suspect dies before charges are filed. Also, these figures do not reflect the department’s clearance rate for nonfatal assaults.)
Clearing homicide cases is also a tangible sign of police accountability, especially in communities of color, where histories of friction with law enforcement are sustained, in part, by the belief that crimes against its citizens aren’t vigorously investigated. These days when people talk about accountability, the conversation usually concerns official transparency and whether officers will be properly punished for abuses of power and misconduct. Yet it’s also about solving crimes, especially the most serious ones, through fair, thorough investigations, and by arresting suspects. That is what the public expects and deserves.
Then there’s this: Thomas Hargrove, founder and chairman of the Murder Accountability Project, a Chicago-based organization that analyzes murder-clearance rates, told The New Yorker there’s a correlation between arresting suspects and a city’s murder rate. In cities with fewer cleared homicides, the murder rate often spikes. “If you allow murders to go unsolved,” Hargrove said, “it all goes to hell.”
While the Boston Police Department is rightfully touting its recent successes, officials must also be mindful that its officers don’t trample constitutional and civil rights to keep those numbers afloat. Reckless policing will quickly erode whatever good will the department can garner from its improved approach to solving homicides.
After Carrasquillo’s capture, Commissioner William Evans spoke of the department’s “dedication to bringing these suspects to justice. We understand the importance of finding and prosecuting suspects quickly, and we hope it can bring some amount of closure and peace for the victim’s loved ones.” Through its careful diligence in solving murders, Boston Police are bringing solace not just to a victim’s loved ones, but to entire communities as well.