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What is Clearance Rate?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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A clearance rate refers to the number of cases that are solved by a particular law enforcement agency. It is one measure of an agency's skill and efficiency in solving crimes, but it is often used in conjunction with many other benchmarks if used at all. The clearance rate may be divided up in a number of different ways, including the type of crime being committed, or the seriousness of the crime. Clearance rates are not linked to convictions.

Law enforcement agencies clear a crime in one of two ways. The first way is when an arrest is made. This scenario is how most cases are cleared, and how the clearance rate is typically impacted. The other way a case can be cleared is when a situation makes it impossible for police to arrest the perpetrator. This occurs in cases where the suspect has died, or where the victim may not be cooperative in the investigation and refuses to press charges.

The clearance rate may not be strictly defined from one agency to another. Some agencies may define a clearance rate simply as when an arrest is made. Some may define it simply as identifying a suspect, whether or not that suspect is actually taken in to custody. An acquittal on a charge does not mean the case is not considered cleared from a law enforcement perspective.

Further, the definition of a crime may also change from one jurisdiction to another. Some jurisdictions may have laws that are more strict than another jurisdiction, and those laws may be harder or easier to enforce. Also, police investigators may not officially classify an incident as a crime in order to positively affect clearance rates. This makes comparing data, or even relying on any portion of the data, extremely questionable.

Generally speaking, the clearance rates for serious crimes, especially crimes against individuals, are higher than those rates for less serious crimes. This may provide an indication of how limited resources in a law enforcement agency are spent. For example, a 2009 study in the state of Nevada that analyzed 10 years of data found that the clearance rate for murder was 80%, but the rate for motor vehicle theft was only 7%.

In the United States, the national clearance rates for more serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault stood at 22% in 2009. That number included a total of approximately 9.4 million cases investigated by local, state, and federal agencies. The long-term national trend for the rate in the United States is more than 20%.

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Discussion Comments

By MrMoody — On Oct 25, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - I agree, and tend to view clearance rates with the same skepticism that I viewed test scores when I was a teacher.

They were used as the metric to define how well the teacher was doing, much as the clearance rates are used to define how well a law enforcement agency is doing.

What was the result of the undue emphasis on the test scores? It resulted in a tendency to teach to the test, where students weren’t really learning the material as they should, but were in some sense being force fed the test answers.

I think we need a more holistic metric for law enforcement, otherwise law enforcement personnel may push too hard to arrest someone without sufficient warrant, simply to boost their clearance rates.

By SkyWhisperer — On Oct 25, 2011

The article makes it clear that clearance is not the same as conviction. Therefore it’s possible someone could be arrested who turns out not to be guilty. That crime is cleared, still, but the real criminal may be at large.

Therefore I have to take the clearance rates with the proverbial grain of salt. Further, since the rate can be skewed by other factors – like witnesses not cooperating or a refusal to press charges – you don’t really know what those clearance rates actually tell you.

Like so many things in statistics, you have to drill down to see what the numbers mean, so I would prefer if in addition to clearance rates we could see a breakdown of conviction rates, the kinds of clearance being made and stuff like that. That would be most useful.

By burcidi — On Oct 24, 2011

@turquoise-- I agree with you. Clearance rate statistics are actually very useful and they are used for various things. It's not only used by law enforcement to decide which areas to spend the money and to determine weaknesses and strengths, but a lot of researchers and policy makers also use it for their work.

So clearly, we have a need for clearance rate statistics. But unfortunately, they're not very reliable because law enforcement agencies in the US are not required to provide any statistics. They do if they want to and then the FBI puts it all together and makes it public from time to time.

I think it's great that the FBI has taken on this responsibility, but it serves little purpose when all the data is not available or dependable. This also means that some policy makers are actually making serious national and sate-wide decisions based on this data.

This is a disaster! I agree that this whole clearance rate statistic issue needs to be re-organized under one umbrella. The FBI can definitely continue this role. But all law enforcement agencies- county-wide, state-wide and federal should be required to provide clearance rate data. And a federal agency should oversee it to make sure that it is dependable.

By turquoise — On Oct 23, 2011

Wow, the serious crime clearance rate is only around 20%?! I expected it to be much more than that.

I think we not only need more law enforcement personnel, but also more capable law enforcement across city, state and federal agencies.

It's probably also time to adapt a unified way of determining clearance rates because just like the article said, we can never do correct comparisons with different methods. In turn, we can't improve the system if we can't compare how different law enforcement agencies are doing and why.

By ddljohn — On Oct 23, 2011

I was watching a show about criminal investigations on TV and learned that technology actually has a lot to do with clearance rates.

The technology used for criminal investigations has really increased and developed, making it easier for law enforcement to solve crimes. As a regular civilian, I always took DNA testing and similar technologies very lightly. After watching this show though, I realized how important they are for linking evidence and finding criminals.

They can even find the DNA of a murderer from his dandruff now! This was not possible several decades ago. So the clearance rates for crimes in the US should definitely be going up, considering how many new technologies are now available to law enforcement.

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