Colo. burglary victims unlikely to get results; data shows police have a hard time solving the crime

DENVER – If you're the victim of a crime awaiting justice, recent law enforcement reports suggest you may be waiting a long time. FBI data shows that clearance rates -- the rate in which crimes are solved -- for some crimes in particular might be even lower than one would think.

“I think generally society wants the law enforcement to be able to solve all crime, and unfortunately, it’s just not a reality,” Golden Police Department Captain Joe Harvey said.

Clearances are defined by the FBI in one of two ways: by arrest or by “exceptional means.” Clearance by arrest means at least one person has either been arrested, charged or turned over for prosecution in regards to the alleged crime.

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Exceptional means clearances happen when all four of the following conditions are met: Law enforcement agencies must have identified the offender of the crime, gathered enough evidence to support an arrest and charge, identified the alleged offender’s location, and have come across a circumstance that prevents them from arresting, charging and prosecuting the alleged criminal.

Nationally, clearance rates for various crimes in 2015 sit as follows: murders and homicides -- 62 percent; aggravated assault -- 54 percent; rape -- 38 percent; robbery -- 29 percent; burglary -- 14 percent.

In Colorado, the percentages are fairly similar, though Denver, the state's largest city, bucked some of the trends.

Clearance rates in Colorado similar, but burglaries are biggest problem

Denver's homicide clearance rate was lower than the national average, at 51 percent. But Denver police cleared 53 percent of rapes – higher than the national average, and cleared 14.5 percent of burglaries.

Burglaries remain the most difficult crimes for law enforcement agencies in Colorado to clear, they say.

According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation data, there were 23,333 burglaries reported in Colorado in 2015 – a 0.9 percent increase from the year before. Burglaries accounted for nearly 51 percent of all major crimes that were reported.

In some Colorado cities, the clearance rate is significantly lower than the national average.

In 2015, Denver saw a 15 percent clearance rate for burglaries. Golden had the highest burglary clearance rate in the Denver metro area, at 22 percent. And northern Colorado’s burglary clearance rates were higher on average as well: Larimer County had a 20 percent clearance rate; Fort Collins’ rate was 15 percent and Weld County’s was 12 percent.

“Sometimes it’s good luck; sometimes it’s good investigative leads,” Golden's Harvey said.

But he adds that numbers can change quickly, and that sometimes, there aren’t enough detectives to assign one to each case.

A force’s manpower and many other factors come into play when it comes to solving crimes, and that shows when looking at the clearance rates in some other metro-area jurisdictions, which didn’t fare as well.

The burglary clearance rate in ritzy suburb Cherry Hills Village was 11 percent; Aurora’s was 8 percent and Centennial’s was 6 percent. Lone Tree police cleared just one of 50 burglary cases in 2015, and Jefferson County cleared 7.8 percent of its 500 burglaries that year.

But Littleton, a municipality of around 50,000 people, had a burglary clearance rate of just 1.5 percent in 2015 (three out of 199 burglaries were cleared), putting it near the bottom of the list for the entire state.

“It’s very difficult to solve a burglary in any city,” said Littleton Police Department Commander Trent Cooper, who leads the department’s investigations division.

He says there is obviously room for improvement when it comes to solving burglary cases, but told Denver7 Investigates he thinks his department is doing well overall.

“These numbers reflect the difficulty of a burglary in particular,” Cooper said. “Burglary as a crime has got a very low solvability rate.”

Cooper says that numbers in 2016 improved to a 5 percent clearance rate for burglaries, though the FBI data for last year won’t be available until later this year.

But 2015 data for Littleton wasn’t great as a whole, aside from the low burglary clearance rate.

The Littleton Police Department cleared one of seven arson cases, five of 112 motor vehicle thefts, and 93 of 770 theft cases.

For the full Colorado clearance rates per crime, sorted by city and county, click here or see the chart embedded below. (Hit Ctrl+F to search the spreadsheet).

What can be done to stem burglaries?

But both state- and nationwide, burglary victims are often left without closure in their cases.

Dave Read, of Commerce City, came home one day to find a man loading his guns out of his apartment in a wheelbarrow. When confronted, the burglar jumped out of a window.

Chuck Frederick had nearly $15,000 worth of tools stolen from his truck overnight in Castle Rock as his wife and kids slept inside – another unsolved burglary.

Read even had a video of the suspect in the burglary at his home, but despite the footage being broadcast across Denver news channels, the suspect was never caught.

Cooper says it’s unlikely that a detective would be assigned to a case that has no video evidence and in which no one saw a suspect enter or leave the home or vehicle that was burglarized. A scene with no obvious fingerprints is also often times a dead-end for investigators, Cooper says.

Police say that having security cameras is still the best way to help investigators catch any burglary suspects, if a homeowner can afford them.

Video evidence can show a suspect’s face, appearance, or special characteristics such as an odd gait or distinct height and weight features.

It can also show places where the suspected burglar walked or touched, which can narrow down the scope of the area where detectives could search for fingerprints, shoe sole prints or DNA evidence that may help them identify a suspect.

Police also advise people to write down the serial numbers of any electronics or other items that a burglar may target.

Televisions, computers, cell phones, game consoles and many other items come with distinct serial numbers that law enforcement can put into a nationwide database that pawn shops and other stores across the country often cross-check when items are sold, and could help investigators figure out where stolen items end up.

Editor’s note: Each year, the FBI Uniform Crime Report comes with the following disclaimer:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.

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