Northeastern University Study Finds BPD Program Raises Homicide Clearance Rate

A new study examines a Boston Police Department program that significantly improved its Homicide Unit’s clearance rates, resulting in improvements that were distinct from existing homicide clearance trends in other Massachusetts and U.S. jurisdictions. The study finds that the BPD homicide unit raised its clearance rate by 9.8%, from 47.1% during the 2007 through 2011 preintervention time period to 56.9% during the 2012 through 2014 intervention time period.

This study, performed by Northeastern University Professor Anthony Braga and Desiree Dessault of the BPD and funded by Harvard University’s Rappaport Institute and the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, provides evidence that this approach can produce improved results in criminal investigations. The study examined the Boston Police Department’s approach and its impact on homicide clearance rates, meaning that, in collaboration with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, at least one individual is arrested for the offense, charged, and eventually prosecuted.

“Boston’s approach of additional staffing, enhanced training, standardization, and regular peer-reviews made a real difference” said Professor Anthony Braga “leading to an increase in homicide clearance rates.”

The study examined Boston’s approach and its impact on homicide clearance rates, meaning that at least one individual is arrested for the offense, charged, and turned over for prosecution. It informs a broader discussion about whether crimes are most often solved by the random circumstances of crime scenes or whether specific follow-up investigations are useful in increasing clearance rates.

“These findings offer evidence that criminal investigations, that follow this approach, can increase the likelihood of solving crimes," said BPD Deputy Chief of Staff Desiree Dessault.

The police play a central role in helping societies produce justice by holding offenders accountable for their crimes. Police department performance is typically measured through “clearance rates” for criminal offenses, which usually require that at least one individual is arrested for the offense, charged, and turned over to the court for prosecution.

The study was funded by Harvard University’s Rappaport Institute and first appeared online as an article entitled “Can Homicide Detectives Improve Homicide Clearance Rates?” in the journal Crime and Delinquency.

Related Links

Can Police Improve Homicide Clearance Rates? Policy Brief

About the Authors

Anthony A. Braga is Distinguished Professor and Director at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. With colleagues, he has published numerous peer reviewed journal articles in top criminology and criminal justice journals. Braga has authored three books and edited seven volumes with top scholarly presses. He holds an M.P.A. from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Rutgers University

Desiree Dusseault is Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Police Commissioner at the Boston Police Department. She has a Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, with a Minor in Public Policy and Administration from Northeastern University.

About the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston

The Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government strives to improve the region’s governance by attracting young people to serve the region, working with scholars to produce new ideas about important issues, and stimulating informed discussions that bring together scholars, policymakers, and civic leaders. The Rappaport Institute was founded and funded by the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation, which promotes emerging leaders in Greater Boston.