Developments arise regarding UC Berkeley study on effects of unsolved homicides

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Recent developments have unfolded regarding a UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic study released in January.

The study examined the impact of impunity — the “failure to bring perpetrators of a violent crime to justice” — among families of victims of unsolved homicides in Oakland. Researchers found that the Oakland Police Department made arrests in about 40% of homicide cases involving Black victims, compared to 80% of cases involving white victims. OPD has about 2,000 “cold” homicide cases in its system.

OPD disagreed with the UC Berkeley study, citing a Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence report titled “A Case Study in Hope.”

“Giffords study is consistent with the Department’s findings and data,” said OPD spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson in an email. “The study revealed a 20 year decline in homicides.”

The Giffords study focused on Oakland’s violence reduction strategy, while the UC Berkeley law clinic study focused on families of homicide victims particularly those that faced barriers in accessing support services, “lackluster police responsiveness” and discrimination.

The California Victim Compensation Board — a state program that provides reimbursement for many crime-related expenses to eligible victims who suffer physical injury or threat of physical injury as a direct result of a violent crime — provided data highlighting the percentage of claims submitted by a “race/ethnicity” group that were denied. From 2018-19, 9% of claims made by Black victims were denied statewide, while 6% of Latinx claims and 7% of white claims were denied.

According to Roxanna Altholz, co-director of the UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic and author of the study, there were attempts to contact police officials over the course of several months, but only one official accepted the invitation to participate in the study.

Altholz also highlighted the use of “clearance data” compiled by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

“The FBI allows police departments to report clearances when a suspect is arrested or charged and by ‘exceptional means’ such as when a suspect has died, witnesses decline to testify, or other circumstances,” Altholz said in an email.

OPD made arrests in 38.8% of homicides committed in 2016, but reported a clearance rate of about 50% of homicides because arrests were made for murders committed in previous years, according to Altholz. In 2017, 45% of homicide cases were solved, but a clearance rate of 71% was reported because OPD made 18 homicide arrests in the previous years.

“The Oakland Police Department is committed to reducing the number of lives lost to violence each year,” Watson said in the email. “Any loss of life is not acceptable and we strive for a time when a family member or anyone is not impacted by violence. The Department acknowledges that violent crime and homicides create trauma in our community and OPD is committed to reducing that impact.”

Jacob Souza contributed to this report.

Contact Marc Escobar at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.