RICHMOND -- While the city is set to finish 2013 with its lowest homicide total in years, a far lower percentage of the killings has been solved, according to police statistics.
As of Friday, 16 people had been slain in Richmond this year. Only four of those homicide cases have been solved.
That's a steep drop from last year, when more than half of the city's 18 homicides were cleared, meaning a suspect was detained and/or charged with the crime.
Sgt. Nicole Abetkov attributed the dip to factors outside the department's control, such as witnesses being more reluctant to cooperate with police this year than in the past.
"It's difficult for us to try and solve these cases without the public's help," she said.
Despite this year's low homicide-clearance rate, the city has come a long way toward curbing violence since Chief Chris Magnus took the helm, Abetkov said.
In 2006, Magnus' first year on the job, Richmond recorded 42 homicides, making it the ninth most dangerous city per capita in the United States, according to FBI statistics. In 2007, 47 people were slain in the city.
At that time, it would have been hard to predict that only 16 people would be killed in 2013 -- although city leaders say that number is still too high.
Over the past four years, Richmond police have also been much more effective at solving cases.
Between 2009 and 2012, nearly half of all homicides were solved, up from 31 percent in 2006. Lt. Andre Hill said the department's community-policing efforts have played a big role.
"It's no secret that we used to meet resistance from the public in terms of cooperation," Hill said. "But I think that now people are much more receptive to talk to the police."
While the department's homicide-clearance rate didn't reflect the improved community relations this year, Abetkov noted that police are still working hard-to-solve cases. Sometimes, even the most diligent investigation can be fruitless, she said.
During her time in the homicide division, Abetkov was assigned to the killing of 16-year-old Jerrell Moore.
"I followed every lead, I put up billboards offering rewards, I applied for the governor's reward," which offers $50,000 to anyone who provided information leading to the perpetrator's arrest and conviction, she said.
Still, the case remains cold.
Police are asking the public to provide any information that could help them solve this year's 12 unsolved homicides. "We understand people's reluctance to come forward because of fear of retaliation and being labeled a snitch," Abetkov said. "But we do everything in our power to protect them."
To leave an anonymous tip, call 510-232-TIPS.
This article was produced by RichmondConfidential.org, a nonprofit news service based in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.