All law enforcement agencies follow the FBI’s statistical definitions for crime solving when reporting their performances to the California Department of Justice, which publishes raw numbers online.
Using this database, The Modesto Bee computed a decade’s worth of crime-solving rates for each agency in areas served by The Bee and the Merced Sun-Star. Numbers for each agency, broken into various categories of violent and property crimes, can be seen and compared using an online, interactive map at www.modbee.com.
Arrests are not required to clear crimes. Agencies get credit when inspectors gather enough information but can’t collar a culprit because of death, extradition red tape or reluctance of victims to cooperate.
An evaluation of numbers from 2003 through 2012 produced some notable findings:
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• Agencies in the Northern San Joaquin Valley – San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties – posted a combined rate of 47.7 percent for solving violent crimes.
• The statewide average of 43.9 percent is worse.
• Most local rates have declined since the economic downturn began forcing officer layoffs about five years ago.
• Less than one-third of rapes were solved by agencies throughout Stanislaus County (31.4 percent), compared with the statewide average of 43 percent.
• Sheriff’s detectives solved only 3.6 percent of thefts in Waterford and 3.9 percent in unincorporated areas, and 5.3 percent of auto thefts in Patterson.
• Small cities generally have an easier time solving violent crimes – murder, rape, assault and robbery – with a combined rate of 59 percent in this region, compared with 47 percent for larger cities.
• Cities whose voters have approved public safety taxes – Ceres (in 2007) and Oakdale (2011) – do slightly better (55 percent) than the average for all Stanislaus cities (53 percent) at solving violent crimes. Atwater and Stockton voters approved surtaxes in 2013, after figures used for this report were posted.
• Ceres’ success rate in clearing violent crimes dropped 16 percent in the four years before proceeds from its public safety tax began rolling in, in 2008. In the next four years, the rate rebounded 9 percent.
• Cities contracting with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for police services – Hughson, Riverbank, Waterford and Patterson – get essentially the same service in terms of violent crime solved (53.2 percent) as cities without such contracts (53.1 percent)