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.

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.

Even in cases of increased police spending and correlated crime reduction, municipalities have to weigh the negative effects that accompany adding more police officers, such as increasing arrests for low-level crimes which contribute to mass incarceration and disproportionately affect Black communities. Exposure to the criminal justice system itself can perpetuate underlying issues that contribute to violent crime and recidivism, such as low socioeconomic status and unemployment, homelessness, and poor mental health.

This gap in data speaks to a larger need. Gun violence requires more than just policing to fix it. This is a task CJR has taken on at the county and community level, engaging in research to inform effective interventions and reduce mass incarceration and racial/class-based disparities. While law enforcement has a role to play in violent crime reduction and can, in some cases, benefit the community through evidence-based, targeted policing, more is needed to address this problem, and those most affected need to be a part of the solution. Social services and community-based organizations can aid in addressing the underlying factors contributing to violent crime.

Read the full article about ending gun violence by Howard Henderson and Denise Brown at Brookings.