Every year, thousands of shootings and homicides go unsolved in major cities across the country. Last year, the Chicago Police Department cleared roughly 45 percent of its homicides, while the NYPD made arrests in about half of homicides and one-third of shootings. These are relatively good numbers: in 2019, the Baltimore PD cleared fewer than one in three homicides.

The VICTIM Act, new federal legislation released on October 28, would appropriate $1 billion over the next decade in Justice Department grants to police departments looking to boost their clearance rates. The bill is the work of a team of House Democrats but could easily attract bipartisan support. Solving more violent crimes would help deter crime and enhance respect for the police in communities where officers most often struggle with legitimacy.

VICTIM Act funds could be spent on hiring, retaining, or training homicide and shooting detectives, improving evidence processing and other investigative technology, and providing victims’ services or other “competitive and evidence-based programs to improve homicide and non-fatal shooting clearance rates.” Grantee departments would report back to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which would keep track of successful policies.

Such a program has a real chance to make a dent in violent crime. In a recent Manhattan Institute report, University of Pennsylvania criminologist Anthony Braga detailed the evidence-based approach to increasing clearance rates that he helped implement in Boston. By increasing the number of investigators, enhancing training, and improving the department’s evidence-handling capacity, the BPD saw a 23 percent increase in homicide clearances relative to the rest of Massachusetts and the United States.

Boosting clearance rates not only ensures justice for victims but also helps combat crime, Braga notes. Improving the certainty that a perpetrator will be arrested increases the deterrent effect of law enforcement and encourages people in high-violence communities to trust the police—which can lead to more tips and more criminals taken off the streets. Arresting a shooter, even before he has killed, can also prevent future offenses, stopping the cycle of retaliatory violence in its tracks. As Braga explains, the difference between a non-fatal and fatal shooting is often a matter of how well the gunman can aim.

VICTIM Act funds would help other departments adapt the lessons learned in Boston and elsewhere to their own crime fighting. They could also encourage more innovation in clearances, particularly if the Justice Department gives out grants based in part on a lottery, allowing researchers to isolate the causal effect of the funds.

The politics of criminal justice and policing have become dangerously polarized. But those who believe in public safety shouldn’t let partisanship get in the way. The VICTIM Act is a sensible plan to help save American lives.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images


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