Based on the Allen County coroner’s findings, there were 24 local homicides last year – more than 50% fewer than the 49 recorded in 2021 and the lowest number in at least seven years.

 National homicide data from 2022 is not yet available, but the Fort Wayne Police Department continues to buck U.S. trends by maintaining its high clearance rate on such cases.

With fewer homicides and an 83% clearance rate, “it’s a good year,” Sgt. David Klein of the Fort Wayne Police Department’s homicide division told The Journal Gazette’s James D. Wolf Jr. Investigators consider cases solved if someone has been arrested or charged, the killers killed themselves or were killed during the crimes, or prosecutors are considering or have ruled self-defense.

All but one of the 2022 Allen County homicides were in Fort Wayne, where just four of the 23 cases the police investigated remain unsolved. In 2021, police solved 79% of their homicide cases. The year before, 83% of the 2020 homicides were cleared.

The national homicide clearance rate in 2020 was just 54%. According to FBI data, homicide clearances have declined in each of the past six decades.

Crime analyst Jeff Asher told The Atlantic magazine in July there are six possible explanations for the decline in the national homicide clearance rate: Police departments’ claims of 90% clearance rates in the 1960s were bunk; the effects of the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda vs. Arizona; an increase in gun murders; higher evidentiary standards from juries and prosecutors; racism and distrust between police and Black communities; and fewer and overextended police officers.

Asked which hypothesis explains most of the decline in clearance over the last 30 years, Asher answered, “It’s guns.”

“The nature of murder in America is changing in ways that we don’t really talk about enough. You’ve got a bunch of cities where firearms make up 80% to 90% of murders today. That is the main driver,” said Asher, co-founder of AH Datalytics, a nationally recognized data analysis firm with expertise in evaluating criminal justice data. “Guns make murders much harder to solve, and it leads to lower clearance rates everywhere.”

Fort Wayne police recorded 19 fatal shootings in 2022 and 77 non-fatal shootings. Sgt. Jeremy Webb told Wolf those non-fatal shootings include incidents of shots fired into homes, and people pointing a gun at another person. The department’s system lumps them together, he said.

Improved technology has helped investigators solve local homicides. Klein pointed to the murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley in 1988 as an example. Investigators matched DNA samples of killer John D. Miller’s relatives submitted to a genealogical testing company, finding him through similarities to relatives.

It’s also become easier for police to track down people, Klein said.

“Between cellphones, internet and social media, everyone is very connected,” he said. He also cited the rise in surveillance cameras and video camera doorbells that record events.

Klein told Wolf information from the public still helps make homicide cases. In fact, public assistance might be why the percentage of solved homicide cases remains high in Fort Wayne, year after year.

The Fort Wayne Police Department’s outreach efforts are well-documented. The Officer Friendly, Stranger Awareness and the Gun Don’t Touch programs tour local schools from November to March.

Officers participate in public events and block parties, and they take part in community talks on topics including phone and internet scams, teenage vaping and social media safety.

And there’s United Front, an initiative to craft better race relations in the city. It was created in the wake of the social and racial unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers in Minneapolis in 2020.

According to crime analyst Asher, certain communities within cities don’t trust the police. When disputes arise, they take matters into their own hands. That can create a cycle of violence that’s difficult to interrupt.

But that’s not the case in Fort Wayne, where outreach and improving community relations are just part of the job.

In the meantime, there remain four Fort Wayne families of 2022 homicide victims who still are navigating waves of anger, grief and frustration beyond our comprehension. Thankfully, police officers and victim advocates assist them in traversing the indescribable.

Editorials are the opinion of The Journal Gazette Editorial Board: President Julie Inskeep, publisher Sherry Skufca, editorial page editor Fredrick McKissack and editorial writer Jeff Kovaleski.