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Congress should fund police efforts to solve murders and reduce violence

(File: Getty)

Rakim Allen, a successful rapper who performed under the stage name PnB Rock, was eating lunch last week at a popular South Los Angeles restaurant when he was ambushed, robbed, and fatally shot. Allen’s murder was vicious and unusually brazen. Still, it was just the latest tragedy in a disturbing trend, as similar violence has become nauseatingly common. America’s homicide crisis demands an immediate response. Fortunately, Congress already has the right tool for the job at its disposal, in the form of the VICTIM Act. This bipartisan bill would give law enforcement resources to solve the staggering number of murders that go unsolved each year and, in turn, reduce the likelihood of future violence.

Allen’s murder is part of a homicide spike that has affected the entire nation. Big cities, smaller cities, and rural areas have all seen a surge in murders over the past several years. And despite rhetoric to the contrary, the problem is bipartisan, with spikes in cities run by Democrats and Republicans alike. No one has been untouched by this, and no easy or politically convenient narrative convincingly explains the problem

The dramatic national spike in homicides began relatively recently, but U.S. homicide rates have long dwarfed those of other wealthy democracies. Still, national trends hide cruel realities about the distribution of violence in America. Just about everywhere, lethal violence is concentrated in neighborhoods marked by poverty and disadvantage, stress, social isolation, and decaying infrastructure. The risk of homicide is highest for Black Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the national U.S. homicide rate in 2020 was 7.5 per 100,000. In the same year, the homicide rate for Black males in the U.S. aged 15-24 was 108 per 100,000.

Every year, thousands of people–overwhelmingly, young Black men–are shot, stabbed, and beaten to death on America’s streets. Their families and friends endure unimaginable pain and grief, post-traumatic stress, financial pressures, and poorer health. Untold numbers of young children witness shocking acts of violence and never fully recover, which hurts their chances of living full lives. Today, hundreds of thousands of our neighbors carry the burden of agonizing loss. 

Reducing lethal violence quickly and permanently should be a policy priority for both parties in Washington, D.C. The VICTIM Act, a bipartisan bill led by Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), is a good place to start. It would give $1 billion directly to law enforcement agencies over 10 years to hire, retain, and train homicide detectives and non-fatal shooting investigators; upgrade and expand evidence processing technology; and expand access to critical victim services, among other items. 

About half of murders yearly go unsolved, partly because there aren’t enough resources available to solve them. Unsolved murders create a sense of impunity among criminals and incentivize retaliation, which are significant drivers of violence. When detectives have sufficient resources, they can arrest murderers who would otherwise get away with it. Successful prosecutions not only reduce future violence directly, but deliver the safety most Americans take for granted. Solving murders will also signal that policymakers and police care about the people who live in vulnerable communities. The hope is this signal will improve relationships between police and communities. But more than anything, the hope is that the killing will stop.

Increased funding for homicide and shooting investigations is not a catch-all answer to American violence, but it has now become necessary. Significant investments in strengthening long abandoned neighborhoods should be next on the list, and Congress should fund the expansion and rigorous evaluation of promising violence reduction efforts across the board. But many of these strategies are long-term at best, while the need for action is immediate. 

The VICTIM Act is endorsed by enforcement organizations like the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the Fraternal Order of Police. It also has the support of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In today’s political climate, that kind of unity is exceedingly rare. Congress should seize the opportunity, pass the VICTIM Act, and deliver a huge win for public safety to the American people. 

Greg Newburn is director of criminal justice at the Niskanen Center.

Tags victim act violent crime

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