Public Scholarship

Preventing Gun Violence Takes More than Police - Brookings Institution

Gun violence is one of the most devastating and burdensome public health issues in the United States, taking almost 21,000 lives (not even including suicides) in 2021 and having an estimated economic toll of $280 billion annually. These statistics heavily impact Black communities, where homicide is one of the leading causes of death for Black males. Alongside nationwide efforts to reduce violent crime after a 30% increase in murders between 2019 and 2020, further research is needed on the factors that predict violent crime and gun violence in particular.

We are beginning to see the targeting of social factors within high-crime communities become integrated into cities’ public safety initiatives more and more. Mayors in Houston and New York City have implemented police reforms that fund more focused policing alternatives aimed at mental health and other social programming. For example, One Safe Houston funds adding officers to beats in crime hotspots, gun buyback programs, and other reactive policing methods. It also incorporates violence prevention training, mental health support and interventions, and services for survivors of domestic violence.

At the national level, this month, President Biden and his administration proposed a $300 million plan to reduce gun crime and make communities safer. While his plan would fund the hiring of more police officers, it would also divert funding to community-based violence prevention and intervention programs. The Biden administration stated, “Stronger law enforcement is critical in stopping gun crime, but it’s made more effective when we make real investments in making our communities stronger and in addressing the causes of crime before it spills over into violence.” Biden’s plan will invest in proven tactics, including hospital-based interventions, youth programming, after-school activities, job training, stable housing, and more.

An increasing number of studies are examining the relationships between various community distress factors and violent crime, and while this research has influenced violence reduction efforts like those mentioned above, there is still a nationwide impulse to increase police funding and police presence. A national poll found that two out of three voters believe increasing police funding decreases crime. However, this is not entirely true. A 2020 analysis of national police spending and crime trends showed no correlation between police funding and crime rates one way or the other. A University of Pennsylvania criminologist found that increases in police hiring reduced homicides 54% of the time, but crime also went up and down without a direct correlation with police hiring amidst this trend.

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