Yakima police have solved 100% of the city’s homicides in 2021 thanks to witnesses, SafeCam program

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police have solved 100% of the city’s murders this year and are crediting their high clearance rate to increased help from community members.

“Some of it is the fact that the public is willing to stay around and give us information,” Capt. Jay Seely said. “Some of these crimes have happened around video surveillance and people have been forthcoming with their Ring videos or their doorbell surveillance … as part of our SafeCam program.”

Most of the cases were cleared by arresting the suspect, but not all of them. In one case where a homeowner shot an intruder, police identified the suspect, but prosecutors ruled it was self-defense and declined to file charges.

Eleven people have been murdered in Yakima since the beginning of the year, including:

Last year, police were able to clear 78% of the nine homicides that occurred within city limits. Seely said the department tends to have a higher clearance rate for murder than the national average, which is usually between 61% and 62%.

Seely said the high clearance rate this year was particularly surprising because more than a third of the homicides were gang-related. He said cases involving gang members are often more difficult to solve because witnesses are unlikely to cooperate with the investigation.

“They don’t want to get involved out of fear of retaliation from the gangs,” Seely said.

Investigators have attributed solving all those cases to hard work by detectives, having more witnesses willing to cooperate and increased participation in the Yakima Police Department’s SafeCam program, which provides police with a map showing nearby security cameras.

“These cameras are everywhere,” Seely said. “You really can’t do anything anymore without somebody either filming it with their phone or capturing it on their security surveillance.”

Through the SafeCam program, community members who have security cameras outside their home provide police with their name, contact information and the location of their camera.

“Video surveillance has been invaluable to these cases,” Seely said.

Seely said residents need to know that police are not able to look at security camera footage without asking permission and getting it straight from the homeowner.

“Some people get confused; they think that maybe we have constant access to their cameras or we can monitor their cameras,” Seely said. “That is not the truth at all.”

When police arrive at a crime scene, they can use the SafeCam program to find nearby cameras, contact residents and hopefully, get permission to view their security camera footage.

“If I can already look at a map and say, ‘Well, I know in the 200 block of Third Street, there’s a camera,’ that saves me from having my detectives line up along the street and walk down the street and start looking and asking and knocking on doors looking for cameras,” Seely said.

Seely said the time detectives save by not having to search for that footage is invaluable. He said speed matters when investigators are trying to identify a suspect before they have a chance to run.

“How quickly you devote resources and how many resources you devote to the crime and how quickly you can start gathering information — all that helps the clearance rate,” Seely said.

Seely said he hopes more people will choose to sign up for the SafeCam program and help them to solve future crimes.

“Crimes don’t happen in a vacuum; people see what happened,” Seely said. “Somebody knows something, it’s just their willingness to come forward and share that information.”

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