Violent Crime

The most dangerous county borders the least dangerous county - what's the big difference?

Data Source: FBI UCR

The Path Forward 

35 days into her role, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco released a Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime memo that outlined 4 steps for combatting violence crime. The final sentence of the Department of Justice written preamble reads, “We know that violent crime is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone.”

  • 🤲 Build trust with communities -  For the first time in 27 years, Gallup polls found that a majority of Americans do not trust law enforcement. Building trust isn’t easy, but holding officers accountable and engaging with communities through roundtables and town halls is a great place to start.

  • ⏱ Invest in Early Community Based Interventions - Beginning in 1991, researchers in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and rural Pennsylvania screened 10,000 5-year-old children for aggressive behavior problems, identifying those who were at highest risk of growing up to become violent adults. The researchers identified 900 children who were deemed at high risk, and of those, half were randomly assigned to a program called “Fast Track Intervention” aimed at early intervention community building. 19 years later in 2010, the authors found that Fast Track participants had drastically fewer convictions for violent and drug-related crimes, lower rates of serious substance abuse, lower rates of illegal sexual behavior, and fewer psychiatric problems than the control group. Early interventions administered by communities work, we just need to invest in them.

  • 🔫 Focus on those who are actually violent - Remember how Americans are really bad at estimating how much violent crime there is? Many law enforcement programs think they are reducing violent crime, but instead target spurious or uncorrelated traits. For example, a false belief was shared during the Trump presidency that illegal immigrants are a threat to public safety. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, an analysis of Texas shows that illegal immigrants commit 56% fewer crimes than native-born Americans when accounting for population size. If we spent less money trying to build a wall and more money on violent crime reduction, we might be in better shape. In fact, the most serious urban violence is concentrated among less than 1% of a city’s population.

  • 📊 Measure the effectiveness of interventions - The term “Evidenced Based Policing” has gained a lot of traction in recent years, but researchers and law enforcement need to have better agreement on the evidence that they are measuring. Project Exile, a 1990s program to deter gun violence, was hailed for its remarkable success. Congressman Bob Barr (GA-R) said in a Congressional hearing, “Project Exile illustrates that you don't need to be a rocket scientist to solve the problem of crime in our communities” and George W. Bush made it the cornerstone of his Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative that he put $2 billion of federal funding towards. As FiveThirtyEight explains though, “Soon after Exile went national, its record was called into question. Gun murder numbers rose every year but one through 2006. Two major research papers on the program’s effects in Richmond came to opposite conclusions.” We need to agree that we are measuring the reduction in murder, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault and not on tangential measurements of how long offenders are locked up or sentiments of safety.