BUFFALO - The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) still struggles to solve its gang related killings.
A joint-investigation by 2 On-Your-Side and Investigative Post revisited the ability of the city force to solve murders. Two-years ago, a similar probe found that the solve rate for BPD was far below the national average.
That remains true today. Looking at killings in Buffalo from 2014 through 2016, the percentage of solved, or as police say "cleared", murder cases was 34%.
In 2014, the solve rate stands at 42%. For 2015, it's 37%. Last year, just 25% of homicides committed in Buffalo have been solved.
According to the FBI, the national average is roughly 60%.
In many murder categories such as those involving robberies, domestic disputes and child abuse, the city force was very successful, solving nearly three-quarters of those killings.
The biggest challenge is gang and drug-related homicides.
In the three-year period we reviewed, there are 77 murders attributed to street gangs. Police have cleared just 7 of these cases.
Why are these crimes so difficult to solve?
"Our number one impediment is witness cooperation and that had been a challenge for the last ten, fifteen years,” says former Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty.
Before holding down the top job at the county prosecutor's office, Flaherty was a long-time assistant district attorney. During his one-year tenure running the office, the number of successfully prosecuted murder cases jumped from 17 in 2015 to more than double that, 36 in 2016.
Flaherty says often the most difficult part of closing homicide cases is getting witnesses to come forward and testify.
“It’s a multi-faceted problem. And it involves fractured relationships between police and members of community…especially the inner city and that’s on us,” says Flaherty.
Flaherty believes, for years, area law enforcement often did not visit crime-prone neighborhoods unless there was a call for help. Much of today's unsolved murders in Buffalo occurred on the east and west sides, areas that have large concentrations of people of color.
“I don’t know any officer who knows the names of the good kids from the community. There may be some and I just may not know them but it doesn’t feel that way," says Jamielah Huggins.
Huggins is African-American, lives in Buffalo and worries about her 15-year-old son. She describes the relationship between city police and violence-prone neighborhoods as broken.
“They can build those relationships. The officers who police those communities have to,” says Huggins.
For a cop, learning a neighborhood and the people who live there can take time, and the head of the police union says too often officers are moving from call to call without time to stop and talk with citizens.
"they’re coming into work. They’re getting their orders from their lieutenant and there’s calls waiting for them to be answered. There’s not a lot of time,” says Kevin Kennedy, president of Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
Despite multiple requests for interview, the BPD did not offer anyone from the force to talk about the unsolved murders and the challenges of clearing gang-related killings.
And the challenge may be larger than previously known. The local FBI office's Safe Street Task force gathering information on street gangs and shares that with local law enforcement including the BPD.
FBI spokesperson Maureen Dempsey tells 2 On-Your-Side that as of December 2016, the task force had identified 55 separate street gangs in Buffalo and some 700 gang members. Membership number could be larger than that. The FBI does not count anyone under the age of 18.