Earlier this month, a member of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), was carjacked by armed attackers near Capitol Hill. Not long before, Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) was physically assaulted in her apartment complex in Washington, D.C.
Stories like these help explain why crime in major cities like Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago receive the most press coverage. Yet communities throughout the country are forced to deal with that same reality in cities large and small, with little national attention.
A new Crime and Safety Impact Report from Our America reveals that homicides, assaults, robberies, carjackings, and shoplifting are overwhelming cities of all sizes, where families fear for their safety each day. This chaos and uncontrolled violence is having cascading negative effects, with residents finding it difficult to wait for the bus to get to work or walk outside late at night.
According to the report, homicide investigations in Atlanta increased by 60 percent from 2019 to 2020, and then peaked in 2022. Likewise, burglary and shoplifting increased last year. Pittsburgh, for example, experienced 71 homicides in 2022, the city’s highest number in a decade. In fact, the Major Cities Chiefs Association reports that Pittsburgh is suffering from a year-over-year increase in rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults as of mid-2023. Pittsburghers likewise saw a 46 percent rise in shootings between 2020 and 2021.
These trends are common even among smaller cities, such as Henderson, Nevada, where FBI crime statistics show that the number of robberies rose by more than 90 percent in the first half of 2022 compared to the same time period in 2021. If that sharp uptick sounds unbelievable, you’re not alone in thinking so. The rise in thefts was so high that the FBI contacted the city itself to verify the increase.
Some inner-city residents have no choice but to pay for ride-sharing services to avoid walking down dangerous streets. These necessary but added expenses for security make it difficult for Americans to attain the American Dream in an already sluggish economy. Meanwhile, it’s nearly impossible for many to rest at night knowing that one of their loved ones could, at any moment, be taken away by homicide or lost to a stray bullet.
These fears are even more keenly felt by our nation’s minority communities, who are most affected by violent crime. African Americans, for example, who make up only 14.2 percent of the U.S. population, are victims of nearly 33 percent of all violent crime and more than half of homicides.
Fortunately, unprecedented crime rates in American communities can be reduced if lawmakers at every level enact policies that strengthen the rule of law, both within and outside crime hubs from Los Angeles to New York City.
Placing more officers at crime “hot spots” would reduce serious crime in communities suffering from rampant shoplifting and shootings due to understaffed and underpaid police forces. Adding just 10 to 17 officers to a police department is enough to prevent one murder and reduce other violent crimes.
Increasing officer pay can also help reverse our nationwide police force shortage and protect inner-city Americans. Higher pay not only would encourage more qualified applicants to join law enforcement, but evidence also suggests that higher pay means better performance on the job. By increasing officer pay, departments can recruit talented potential officers who may otherwise choose a different profession.
It’s likewise vital that district attorneys carry out their responsibility to prosecute crimes, a duty many are neglecting. The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, for example, refused to prosecute two-thirds of arrests in 2022, including cases involving gun possession, drug possession, and burglary charges. That means repeat offenders are having a heyday with the knowledge that they can get away with crimes punishment-free.
Strengthening sentencing guidelines would instantly protect more Americans by putting recidivists in custody. California saw felony arrests for people with two strikes decline by 20 percent when the state passed a “three strikes” law to strengthen sentencing for criminals’ third offenses.
Families all across the country have been faced with growing crime rates that have gone unaddressed and in some cases been exacerbated by local and state officials. To maintain the health and safety of every American city, local officials need to put violent criminals behind bars and community heroes must receive the support and the resources necessary to effectively carry out their jobs.
Gabriel Nadales is the national director of Our America.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.