How well are California cops clearing their cases?

Every year, most law enforcement agencies in California publish the results of their year: the number of crimes reported to them, and the number of arrests they made. With a little math, this becomes their “clearance rates.” 

In 2020, the last year for which data is available, the total statewide clearance rate on non-fatal violent crimes was 45%, compared with 42% nationally. On homicides, clearance rates were 59% in California, compared with 54% nationally. 

But clearances for homicide cases varied wildly — from more than four arrests per five homicides investigated by the San Diego Police Department, to fewer than one in five by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. 

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department made far more arrests per non-fatal violent incident than they did for homicides, driven primarily by higher arrests per rape and aggravated assault. 

The opposite was true of the Oakland Police Department, which made more than one arrest for every two homicides, but fewer than one arrest for every three violent crimes. 

There’s an important consideration to this data: The arrests are reported as “clearances,” but arrests are not convictions. A clearance doesn’t necessarily mean a crime was solved or anyone was punished. 

Police also sometimes clear crimes by “exceptional means.” According to the FBI, this is when police have a suspect and enough evidence to make an arrest, but “a circumstance outside the control of law enforcement” stopped them – the suspect died, for instance, or the victim stopped cooperating.