We’re Underfunding the Police
Improving our criminal-justice system means spending the requisite money to address America’s horrific and long-standing problem with criminal violence.
Why is the United States so exceptionally violent? In 2021, for example, more than 26,000 Americans were murdered—a homicide rate that would be unthinkable in the affluent market democracies of Europe and East Asia. There are any number of explanations for America’s outlier status, including deep-seated cultural characteristics and the prevalence of firearms. But we suggest a different, more parsimonious perspective: This high level of violence is a policy choice brought about by insufficient action. We are so violent because we underinvest in our criminal-justice system.
That may seem counterintuitive amid claims that the U.S. spends excessively on public order and safety, and a movement to “defund the police.” But across all levels of government, the U.S. spends less than 1 percent of its GDP on policing, a share that has declined since the Great Recession. Our level of spending and the number of police officers we employ per capita put us in the middle of the pack relative to our OECD peers, even though our crime rate is far higher. And police-employment rates are declining, a concern police leaders were raising as early as 2019.
Reihan Salam is the president of the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here. Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.
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