How to fix America’s rising murder problem

Gang members connected with the murder of teen

Reihan Salam, the head of a think-tank, the Manhattan Institute, writes about “Addressing the U.S. Murder Problem”:

America’s rate of lethal violence has long been distressingly high—many times the rates seen in other rich democracies. And since 2020, it’s spiked even higher, with 26,000 homicide deaths in 2021 alone.

These killings, and even higher numbers of nonfatal shootings and other violent crimes, come at immense cost. Not only are tens of thousands of lives needlessly cut short every year, but entire neighborhoods live in fear, kids’ education suffers, and businesses flee the areas wracked by shootings.

And the problem is not evenly distributed throughout the nation, but is heavily concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods. If the U.S. has a homicide rate many times those of its peer nations, these places have homicide rates many times higher still.

Stopping the killing across the country should be one of America’s highest priorities.

MI’s Solution

When America’s cities faced a surge in violent crime in the 1990s, the Manhattan Institute played a key role in restoring public safety, advancing strategies that helped police and other justice-system actors achieve drastic reductions in homicides. We are playing the same critical role in today’s debates.

As Charles Fain Lehman and I outlined in a recent piece for The Atlantic, drawing on a wealth of work by other MI scholars, a major aspect of America’s violence problem is almost entirely neglected in public discussions of the issue: Our criminal-justice apparatus is woefully underfunded and underperforming. For example, despite an intentional homicide rate more than 4 times higher than the United Kingdom’s, we spend significantly less than the British on policing, and indeed our police employment rates are declining. About half of murders, and a higher share of nonfatal shootings, go unsolved, as the criminologist Anthony Braga detailed in an MI issue brief last year. Our courts and prisons similarly struggle to handle their workloads.

Many proposals for reform have been outright counterproductive, from defunding the police to unthinkingly dropping bail requirements. But we at MI have pushed back against these ideas and driven home the point that an adequately funded and staffed criminal-justice system is key.

Rafael Mangual’s book Criminal (In)justice decisively rebuts claims that police defunding and decarceration are acceptable approaches to America’s crime problems. Hannah Meyers has explained how extensive “discovery” demands overburden prosecutors, depriving them of the capacity to handle their caseloads. Nicole Gelinas, Lehman, and Mangual have all explained why closing Riker’s Island, and thereby slashing jail capacity in New York, would be disastrous. Robert VerBruggen has highlighted the value that experienced (and thus generally higher-paid) police officers bring to the neighborhoods they patrol.

The way to bring down crime, in other words, is to invest in the capacity to deal with crime.

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