What Nonprofit the Murder Accountability Project Is Doing to Put a Spotlight on Unsolved Killings in the US

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As part of his initial project, Thomas Hargrove developed an algorithm that uses FBI homicide data to identify clusters of murders with an elevated probability of containing serial killings.

Thomas Hargrove initially began what would become “The Murder Accountability Project” while working as a national correspondent for the now defunct Scripps Howard News Service. The project, which he turned into a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to helping America track unsolved homicides by documenting “clearance rates” in states and communities. 

A homicide is considered “cleared” under U.S. Justice Department reporting guidelines when at least one person has been arrested, charged with the crime and the case is handed to the courts.

As part of his initial project, Hargrove developed an algorithm that uses FBI homicide data to identify clusters of murders with an elevated probability of containing serial killings, and in 2015, with the founding of his organization, Hargrove realized the importance of making the information public as a way to not only inform the public, but assist police departments.

“During the process of that year-long national reporting project, I realized how few resources homicide detectives have. And so one of the things they don't have is what almost every other Western nation does have, and that’s a national list of unsolved murders,” Hargrove told Inside Edition Digital. “It's an extremely long list because we're a pretty violent and large country.”

On average, 40% of homicides go unsolved in the U.S., according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, and since 1980 more the 250,000 homicide cold cases have accumulated. 

Hargrove, who resides in Washington D.C., believes if law enforcement has access to the algorithm he created, they can spot clusters of similar murders and similar geographies as well as low clearance rates, ultimately helping them solve them.

Hargrove also gives presentations at police departments, and now with several states operating detective schools, the project’s website is becoming a more common tool to look up records. 

On The Murder Accountability Project’s database, a person can check the clearance rates of states, counties and specific cities and towns. The data can also be narrowed down by year.

“There's a kind of magic to carefully counting things. And we're hoping that the data become a political force so that when people see the homicide clearance rate for their city… it becomes a negotiating tool.” Hargrove said.

Hargrove also mentioned the discrepancies in states reporting crime data to the FBI. The FBI often uses estimates to account for missing data, but it’s not actually clear how far off these numbers usually are. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division estimates that the national clearance rate has steadily declined from about 90% in 1965 to 61.4% as of 2019.

“It is a national tragedy,” Hargrove said. “Most countries are doing much better.”

“The reason is how law enforcement works in this country,” Hargrove added. “Murder is a local crime and only a local crime. If you kill someone, then the city police department will be assigned to work the case. If they fail, that's it. There’s, there are no levels of review. There is no county level. The sheriff doesn't look over your shoulder to see if there's anything we could do better. The state doesn't look over your shoulder, the federal government doesn't look over your shoulder."

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