How Effective Are Police? The Problem of Clearance Rates and Criminal Accountability

69 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2020 Last revised: 27 Apr 2020

See all articles by Shima Baradaran Baughman

Shima Baradaran Baughman

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: April 1, 2020


In recent years, the national conversation in criminal justice has centered on police. Are police using excessive force? Should they be monitored more closely? Do technology and artificial intelligence improve policing? The implied core question across these national debates is whether police are effective at their jobs. Yet we have not explored how effective police are or determined how best to measure police effectiveness.

This Article endeavors to measure how effective police are at their principal function—solving crime. The metric most commonly used to measure police effectiveness at crime-solving is a “clearance rate:” the proportion of reported crimes for which police arrest a person and refer them for prosecution. But clearance rates are inadequate for many reasons, including the fact that they are highly manipulable. This Article therefore provides a set of new metrics that have never been used systematically to study police effectiveness—referred to as “criminal accountability” metrics. Criminal Accountability examines the full course of a crime to determine whether crime that is committed is detected and ultimately resolved by police. Taking into account the prevalence and the number of crimes solved by police, the proportion of crimes solved in America is dramatically lower than we realize. Only with a clearer conversation, rooted in accurate data about the effectiveness of the American police system, can we attempt a path toward increased criminal accountability and public safety.

Keywords: police, policing, crime clearance, criminal accountability

Suggested Citation

Baughman, Shima Baradaran, How Effective Are Police? The Problem of Clearance Rates and Criminal Accountability (April 1, 2020). Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 362, Available at SSRN: or

Shima Baradaran Baughman (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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