UC Berkeley’s International Human Rights Law Clinic released a study Thursday examining the impact unsolved homicides in Oakland and barriers to support services have on the families of victims from underrepresented communities.
Researchers worked with the families of victims of unsolved homicides to measure the impact that “impunity,” or a failure to bring perpetrators to justice, has on their lasting trauma. The study found that fewer arrests are made in cases involving victims from underrepresented communities and that the families of those victims often face greater difficulty accessing state support services and face “disrespectful and discriminatory treatment” from police.
“There are a large number of studies that examine why police fail to solve murders,” said Roxanna Altholz, co-director of the Human Rights Law Clinic and author of the study in an email. “This study examines a different question: how the failure to solve a murder impact family members living in communities where the majority of murders are not solved.”
The state of California provides victims of crimes, such as the families of homicide victims, with financial assistance for expenses including funeral, medical and mental health costs and relocating, according to Altholz. Police have the discretion to block access to that assistance if they conclude that families were somehow involved with the death or that they failed to cooperate with an investigation.
None of the families interviewed during this study were notified by law enforcement of their rights to these support services, according to Altholz.
“Addressing the impact of unsolved murders falls to community-based organizations that have limited resources and are understaffed,” Altholz said in the email. “The individuals who have spearheaded outreach to families of homicide victims in Oakland include the mothers of homicide victims who volunteer their time and have shoe string budgets.”
Oakland has maintained one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates since the 1990s, and the Oakland Police Department has more than 2,000 unsolved homicide cases in its books, according to the study. In the last 10 years, approximately 76% of homicides involved victims who were Black, but arrests were made in only 40% of those cases. In contrast, 80% of cases involving white victims resulted in arrests.
The study also found that arrests are much less frequent in neighborhoods with the highest murder rates. From 2000 to 2018, Oakland police made arrests in 40% of murder cases — far below the state average of 58%. In certain areas, less than one in three homicides resulted in an arrest during the last decade.
“The police must improve the treatment of families at the crime scene and during the investigation,” Altholz said in the email. “Access services should not depend on the police nor should help be conditioned on family members’ cooperation with the investigation or whether they lack a criminal record.”
As of press time, the Oakland Police Department has not responded to our request for comment.