The Integrated Homicide Team- cash grabs and declining solve rates

 

By its own admission, the Integrated Homicide Investigative Team (IHIT), the RCMP/Joint force group now is the largest homicide investigative group in Canada.

They claim coverage of “28 communities and 4 municipal agencies and have conducted over 800 homicides since their inception in 2003.” So on first blush the size of this group may seem to be what one would expect.  Are there “highly skilled analytical unit..and six investigative units” performing to police standards and meeting the expectations of the general public?

First, in terms of the size of the unit and the number of officers assigned, the size of this unit seems on further inspection to be somewhat out of sync with other agencies in Canada and in North America.

For instance, this unit is therefore bigger than Toronto with about 6 times the population, bigger than Montreal, and as big as some of the larger municipalities in the U.S. Although the 28 jurisdictions it covers seems large, one must keep in mind that IHIT is counting a lot of other smaller locations where homicide is rare and not the norm. And of course it does not respond to homicides in Vancouver the largest municipality in their area, nor do they cover Victoria or places outside the LMD like Kelowna or Kamloops.

Their claim of 800 murders during this time, means that they would have had to average 61 murders per year, when their actual average is around 40 murders per year by their own statistics.

However, it became evident that clarity in the numbers is not always possible, and the police often use broad measurement tools.

IHIT is funded by the municipal  agencies and RCMP detachments that have decided to join it, and the respective jurisdictions  pay for their contribution by  either providing manpower or monies, or a combination of both, and the amounts are determined by the homicide rates for that particular region. For instance Squamish averages 1 homicide every 10 years, so therefore pays a minimal fee.  Whereas Surrey on the other hand could have on average 20 homicides a year therefore is required to pay a much larger amount.

One of the continuous lines being delivered by the media group inside IHIT is how overwhelmed they are, too many files, not enough bodies etc. It is then echoed by the local newspapers and television, with little question or examination. So how busy are they?

Since 2003 they have been involved in 509 homicides (by the numbers provided to this writer through a Freedom of Information request – far lower than the 800 they claim in their website) This  averages out to 36 files per year. IHIT states that they have 110 personnel, of which there are 80 sworn police officers. In what seems like the constant government bureaucratic creep over their 13 year history, they have also expanded their unit to include a cold case team, investigational support unit, family/victim support unit, major case management, legal support application team, special projects, and public/media relations. They state that they have six investigative teams and the rest are part of these specialized units. Each team consists of eight officers.

So 36 files per year amongst 48 “investigative” officers works out to 0.75 files per investigative officer. Less than one file per member per year, and if you include all 80 sworn officers in the average it goes down to 0.45 files per member.

[1]Toronto Metro Police in 2016 had 69 homicides which was a big year as their normal average is somewhere between 24 and 40 but in 2008 they had 70 homicides. Almost double the caseload of IHIT, with fewer officers.

IHIT has had 44 homicides in 2016, and claim to have “cleared” 43% of them. Toronto Metro claims to have “cleared” 52%, which Toronto is not bragging about, but still almost 10% greater than IHIT.

Montreal has had a declining homicide rate for several years and had 24 homicides in 2016. The previous decade had seen an average of 34, close to the IHIT average. The Montreal police claim a solvency rate of 65% in 2016. Montreal has about 32 officers, or half the size of IHIT.

It gets even more interesting when one looks to the South where  the IHIT group is still larger than most  U.S. police departments.

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The above chart is in 2004 so is somewhat dated, so a comparison of the solvency rates would not be fair. What is interesting though is the number of officers per file, and the totals of files in general, in comparison with IHIT.

In Houston 62 officers for 272 murders or 4.38 per officer.

In Detroit, the most beleaguered at the time of these figures, 39 officers for 383 murders and an average of 9.82 per officer.

So if you think IHIT is busy try putting yourselves in these cities. [2]

In 2013, the National Clearance rate in the U.S. ,where they seem to be under manned by any measure,  was 64%.

IHIT’s solvency rate in 2013 was 55%. So despite having astronomical numbers compared to IHIT, it would seem that IHIT is always underperforming other agencies, all this despite having the largest group of investigators conducting homicides in Canada.

One must also examine the term “cleared” in the language of the police. For instance, if four people were involved in a murder, and one person is charged, it is considered “cleared” even though three parties may have walked away from it. If a suspect on a file is killed or commits suicide than the matter is also considered “cleared” even though you can not eliminate the possibility that they may have had the wrong “suspect”. Also, one must remember that there are a lot of homicides, where the suspect is obvious such as domestic homicides. They are far easier to get “cleared” than the gang related style murders. If you just measured the gang related files the clearance rate many sources say IHIT would have a solvency rate that would be in the teens.

To be fair, there is a general pattern throughout North America of declining solvency or clearance rates attributed to a number of factors. So all are under performing when judged by the past, and IHIT is no different, but it is just falling a little bit faster than everyone else.

Some explanation for their under performance may be the rules of evidence, the relationships with Crown counsel, Crown Counsel itself, and policies within the RCMP itself. Disclosure, Crown insistence on “substantial likelihood of conviction”,  the complexities of warrant applications, and the lack of informants are just a few things that are often pointed to in the problems facing IHIT. All are legitimate issues.

So there are two problems now facing IHIT; declining clearance rates for the last several decades throughout all police agencies, and an IHIT group which is underperforming almost every other agency.

See the below-noted chart received from IHIT under a Freedom of Information request.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.23.40 PM.png

When it was initially formed from its inception in 2003 and then up  to 2008 was above 64% solvency except for one year; with a high of 78% in 2003 its first year and again in 2007.

Since that time it has been in the 50% range with 2016 being the lowest ever at 43%. (*In terms of full disclosure, I was a member of IHIT for the 1st five years of its existence). It should also be pointed out that IHIT during that first five years consisted of only 4 teams of investigators; did not have a cold case team, did not have an affiant team, nor a family liaison unit. Shortly after those first five years as the solvency rate began to decline, and somewhat incongruously as this was happening, more officers were being added to the unit.

After the first five years IHIT went from 32 officers to 80 officers. Over a 100% increase in manpower and a decline of 20% in solvency in those ensuing years. During this time, the IHIT group has added a staggering 203 “unsolved homicides” to an already large pile.

A third problem plaguing IHIT is that despite falling solvency, and fewer murders than other locations throughout the country, IHIT officers are working a staggering amount of overtime and making a staggering amount of money.

As per the above chart received once again, through Freedom of Information request, you will see that the overtime numbers are divided between the RCMP officers and the City departments who work in combination with the RCMP. So you need to add the numbers together to get the complete picture.

When you examine a few of the years in 2007/2008 the average overtime per member works out to $52,257.56. In 2011/2012 it was $54,731.00 and in the largest year 2013/2014 it was $76,063.97 per officer.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.33.55 PM.png

The IHIT teams are made up of Constables, Corporals and 1 Sargent per team. The lowest salary of this group would be a Constable of three years who makes $82,108.00 per year. So if he is working at IHIT in 2014 his or her salary with overtime would be $158,171.00. Corporals who earn $89,910 would minimally make $165,973.00 and Sargeants with a base salary of $97,999 would be around $174,000. To give this some terms of reference the average “family” income in 2016 was $67,090, so a Constable with three years service, no specific academic degrees or technical certificates was making  247% more than the average Vancouver household.

If this were occurring in normal business practices and  managers saw this level of overtime, it would make financial sense to hire more personnel and look at shifting as a starter to stem such large expenditures. However at IHIT there is no weekend shifting. As one source told me, no one would work at IHIT if the overtime was reduced. Weekends is where the majority of the overtime is made, so in having a shift on the weekend they would be cutting off the flow of overtime monies.

Many reasonably argue that overtime seems to have now become the driving motivational force at IHIT.

IHIT, according to many sources, has become a place you go for two to three years to make a lot of money, and add an impressive title to your resume. Continuity and expertise is no longer treated as a valuable commodity. I’m told that there is often no need for this level of overtime, but it is driven by the unaccountable monies available which are made available and not the necessary investigative requirement. I observed that on many occasions while with IHIT personally, with certain officers enamoured with the financial gains that could be made. It has now become the norm.

Even so, a lot of officers don’t want this, as they are not interested in a lot of overtime and having to be away from family for long periods of time. So there is an additional problem growing  in IHIT with attracting people to the unit, even for promotion. I am told that some teams are down 40% of their manpower and many are abandoning the unit for greener pastures which usually means other Federal sections where overtime is also plentiful without the demands of being on-call and overnight shifting.

Of course, none of these issues are being talked about and why would they. They are not going to speak about the fact that  if someone is murdered there is a less than 50% chance it will be solved. If it is a gang or drug-related murder the chance is probably less than 20%.

I have been told by one source that the head of IHIT currently, Supt. Donna Richardson has even expressed growing concerns about being sued by family members of victims due to the growing inability to solve crimes.

In terms of correcting or trying to address the solvency issues the issues are more complex. There are the general broad based factors which have been occurring for the last few decades amongst the limited academic research in the field.

Often cited:

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.21.40 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.37.17 PM.png

 

a) The integrated vs de-centralized unit, where the integrated teams have lost touch with the localized problems, are unable to develop witnesses and informants. It is believed that this is a fundamental problem with IHIT who have been recruiting younger and younger officers from other areas, with no local knowledge to this central unit.

b) In the 1990’s the flavour of the day in policing became Crime Prevention vs. Crime Solving. Monies poured into community policing stations etc. to the detriment of developing and solving criminal investigations.

c) The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a generational development of nobody wanting to “rat” on anybody in the criminal world. It not only became the edict of the criminal gangs, but the general public became less inclined to get involved.

d) Greater difficulty in prosecuting these cases. The most pronounced of that in this Province is the rules surrounding “disclosure” and the Crown and court guidelines of this issue. (I will talk about disclosure in a later blog, as it has become an albatross that is hindering every investigation)

All of these issues are pertinent to IHIT, but there is growing evidence of the lack of experience, due to younger and younger persons going to the unit, ill-equipped supervisors, and the lack of local knowledge is the biggest factor that needs immediate addressing. It is known that officers with only  three years service, or a 5 year drug officer with no homicide experience all have been accepted into this unit.

To compensate for this inexperience they often have to engage in a type of check list investigation. Someone lists out all the items that could be done, and they go through the motions trying to check it off the list for each and every homicide. It is very time consuming and often fruitless without some experienced oversight to direct what is important and whats not, where the emphasis should be placed based on the circumstances. It is also more expensive.

Experience was so valued  in the Vancouver City Police it used to be that you needed 15 years experience before you would ever be able to apply to the homicide section. (that too has changed because of demographics and loss of experience). In those days I should add, there were two person units, not eight, and there solvency rates were always in the 70% range.The officers were not better then, but they had more experience in a job which demanded experience, and often maintained informants and other sources in the local criminal element, something which is an absolute necessity when dealing with gang-related homicides.

So how is government to deal with this growing problem,  a problem they are either unaware of, or not wanting to talk about it. The current management of the RCMP are fully aware of the situation, as this has not developed overnight. This has been growing for the last several years, and there does not seem to be any internal desire to address these issues in the sensitive world of homicide investigation. Some of the upper managers came up through the IHIT system and were full participants in the overtime gains.  So instead of talking about what is developing as an embarrassment, they seem to be content with only assuaging the public as to their ongoing attentiveness to these investigations.

So as the gang shootings continue they seem satisfied to tell us that it was a “targeted hit” and we have nothing to worry about. The public does need to be concerned and the taxpayer needs to begin demanding some explanations. A full managerial and financial audit is needed as a starter. Time to pull back the covers.

( Recent article in the NY Times talks about the ongoing homicide solvency problem in the Bronx. They have just added 75 “White Shield” Detectives to supplement the three detectives that were handling over 400 cases last year. White Shield Detectives have to go through an 18 month training period working with senior detectives before earning their detective badges

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/nyregion/new-york-police-bronx.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad  )

( *By way of further update, in a Justice Institute of BC In Service Newsletter state that in 2015 police solved in Canada 451 out of 604 homicides, for a solvency rate of 75%. In 2015 IHIT’s solvency rate was 59%)

 

[1] http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/27/sharp-rise-in-murders-in-toronto-in-2016

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/chicago-762-homicides-2016-nyc-la-article-1.2931020

[3] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11647-eng.htm#a1

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