Purpose: Scholars suggest that clearance rates reflect (a) the solvability of cases (Gottfredson & Hindelang, 1979; Roberts, 2007), and/or (b) the populations that the police choose to prioritize (Black, 1976). But few studies consider the totality of contextual and situational characteristics that may explain clearance rates and contribute to important disparities among them. The current study presents a framework that considers the effect of various types of devaluation and solvability on clearance. Methods: Linear probability modeling is used to test the framework’s utility and whether complaint, neighborhood, and police district characteristics affect the clearance of violent crimes in St. Louis, MO. Results: The findings suggest that while minority victims and neighborhoods may be devalued, specific crime features physically hinder crime-solving. Important interactions emerge between devaluation and solvability indicators, and crime types are found to have distinctive clearance predictors. The results suggest that witness and victim-offender relationship information might be particularly important in clearing crimes involving Black victims. Conclusions: Overall, the results highlight the importance of comprehensively studying crime-solving. Future research should continue to work toward developing a comprehensive conceptualization to explain police case clearance.
Racial disparities appear to be persistent in clearance rates, with crimes involving Black victims and occurring in disadvantaged, minority communities having particularly low clearance rates (Petersen, 2017; Roberts & Lyons, 2009). But important conceptualization and measurement issues surround the study of crime-solving, and research has yet to determine whether clearance rates reflect the solvability of cases (Gottfredson & Hindelang, 1979; Klinger, 1997; Roberts, 2007), and/or the populations that the police choose to prioritize (Black, 1976; Jarvis & Regoeczi, 2009). Two theoretical perspectives have been developed to explain crime clearance rates: (1) the devaluation thesis, which claims that disadvantaged, minority individuals and neighborhoods will not be prioritized by the police and therefore cases involving these characteristics will have lower clearance rates (Black, 1976; Jarvis & Regoeczi, 2009; Petersen, 2017); and (2) the solvability perspective, which argues that police and situational characteristics, such as police workload and physical evidence, determine the likelihood of clearance (Gottfredson & Hindelang, 1979; Roberts, 2007). But research examining the influence of such factors on crime clearance has been limited in a number of respects. First, devaluation and solvability perspectives have overlapping constructs, and research has yet to disentangle their competing operationalizations. Secondly, few studies have considered the interaction of devaluation indicators, such as victim race, and solvability factors, such as weapon type (Petersen, 2017; Regoeczi & Jarvis, 2013). Exploring these interactions is an important first step in disentangling alternative perspectives and their relative influences on clearance. Finally, few studies have considered the clearance of crimes other than homicide (Taylor, Holleran, & Topalli, 2009). Since police departments are pressured to solve homicides, they may be less impacted by extralegal factors, such as victim and neighborhood race (Klinger, 1997).