Murder with Impunity: Where killings go unsolved

In a four-block area around Gladstone Avenue, on the northeast side of Indianapolis, there has been a high concentration of homicides since 2007. Only one has led to an arrest. (Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

Christopher Dickson felt justice had been served. For weeks, he’d bragged around his neighborhood about winning $5,000 in a dispute settled on the TV show “Judge Joe Brown.”

On a cool evening in July 2009, the 39-year-old auto mechanic emerged with his nightly tallboy from Dailey’s Package Liquors, a shoebox-shaped shop that sits in a violent 12-block swath of North Omaha. Under the store’s dark-blue awning, a man with a gun demanded Dickson’s cash. As Dickson tried to flee, the gun went off.

Detectives canvassed the area — a mix of dilapidated duplexes, auto repair shops and corner liquors — for witnesses but never found enough evidence. Nine years later, no one has been arrested in Dickson’s slaying, one of thousands of homicides clustered in neighborhoods across the nation where killers are hardly ever brought to justice.

The Washington Post has identified the places in dozens of American cities where murder is common but arrests are rare. These pockets of impunity were identified by obtaining and analyzing up to a decade of homicide arrest data from 50 of the nation’s largest cities. The analysis of 52,000 criminal homicides goes beyond what is known nationally about the unsolved cases, revealing block by block where police fail to catch killers.

The Post mapped more than 52,000 homicides and whether each resulted in an arrest.

The analysis identified areas with low homicide arrest rates, which are shaded in orange.

Many of the cities also have areas with high homicide arrest rates, which areshaded in blue.

The overall homicide arrest rate in the 50 cities is 49 percent, but in these areas of impunity, police make arrests less than 33 percent of the time. Despite a nationwide drop in violence to historic lows, 34 of the 50 cities have a lower homicide arrest rate now than a decade ago.

Some cities, such as Baltimore and Chicago, solve so few homicides that vast areas stretching for miles experience hundreds of homicides with virtually no arrests. In other places, such as Atlanta, police manage to make arrests in a majority of homicides — even those that occur in the city’s most violent areas.

In Pittsburgh, a low-arrest zone occupies a run-down stretch of boarded-up buildings, two-story brick homes and vacant lots. In San Francisco, another one falls within a bustling immigrant neighborhood where day laborers and community college students crowd bus shelters and freeways snake overhead. In the District, yet another sits in the heart of Petworth, a gentrifying neighborhood crowded with construction cranes and the skeletons of future condos.

Daniel Williams, 18, was fatally shot Oct. 13, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Williams family)
Pedestrians walk in the Pico-Union section of Los Angeles on a recent day. Since 2010, 19 killings in the neighborhood have led to five arrests. (Nick Agro for The Washington Post)
In July 2009, Christopher Dickson was fatally shot outside Dailey’s Package Liquors, shown above, in North Omaha. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
People gather during a prayer walk in 2016 for Angela Parks, 60. Parks’s roommate was arrested in her slaying and convicted of manslaughter. (Matt Dixon/Omaha World-Herald)

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