U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would help improve the clearance rate for murders – or the percentage of murder cases solved by law enforcement agencies. The Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods Act (VICTIM Act) would establish a grant program at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to help State, Tribal, and local law enforcement agencies improve their clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in October by Representative Val Demings (D-FL-10).
Since the beginning of the pandemic, murder rates throughout the country have increased. In 2020, 21,570 people were murdered in the United States, the highest number since 1995 and a 29.4 percent increase from 2019 – the most significant one-year jump since the FBI began maintaining records on the statistic in 1960. The increase in homicide rates is not only happening in major cities but also in rural communities, where the percentage of homicides increased by 25% in 2020 – making this the most significant increase in rural communities since 1999, when the agency began tracking the data.
Despite rising murder rates, the clearance rate for murders fell from 61.4 percent in 2019 to 54.4 percent in 2020.
Tragically, people of color disproportionately suffer from murders and poor clearance rates in the United States. Despite comprising 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, Black victims made up at least 46 percent of those murdered in 2020, and local and national reports show that cases involving Black and Hispanic victims go unsolved at substantially higher rates than those involving white victims.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a rise in homicide in every part of our country,” said Senator Booker. “Due to the lack of resources, agencies in rural and urban communities alike lack the proper resources to solve such heinous crimes. This legislation will help law enforcement agencies get the appropriate training and resources they need to help increase clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings and to combat gun violence.”
“Gun violence and violent crime must be addressed with an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This bill will help ensure our law enforcement have the tools they need to keep our communities safe, while also supporting victims and their families who are working to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of violent crime. I’m proud to join Senator Booker and Representative Demings in introducing this critical bicameral legislation, and I urge our colleagues across the political spectrum to support it.”
Said Rep. Demings, “I am proud to have introduced the VICTIM Act in the House and honored to have the leadership of Senator Booker and Senator Durbin as we work to keep communities safe and put murderers behind bars. Real life is quite different from what you may see on television. I saw as a detective, detective sergeant, and chief of police that gun crimes are oftentimes difficult to investigate and solve. Simply put, many agencies lack the resources they need to bring justice to these cases and closure for families. Half of gun murders in the United States go unsolved, and victims are often left with no justice and little support. This legislation would inject critical new funding into America’s law enforcement agencies to hire and train detectives and specialists specifically committed to investigate unsolved crimes, comfort victims, and bring the guilty to justice.”
Specifically, the Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods Act, or the VICTIM Act, will be used to improve clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings by:
- Training detectives and police personnel to investigate, solve, and respond to homicides and non-fatal shootings;
- Hiring additional detectives, officers, and personnel to support these efforts; and investing in technology needed by law enforcement agencies for these efforts;
- Training police personnel to address the needs of victims and family members of homicides and non-fatal shootings;
- Providing victims and family members with mental health resources and assistance with shelter, wage, and relocation costs.
Additionally, recipients of VICTIM Act grants would be required to report their use of the money to the DOJ. The National Institute of Justice will conduct periodic evaluations of the grant programs and their practices and procedures to identify which successfully improved clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings. Information from this report, in addition to data collected by individual grant recipients, will be compiled by the DOJ and provided to Congress.
The VICTIM Act is endorsed by the following organizations: Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), Major County Chiefs Association (MCCA), National Organization of Black Law (NOBLE), Niskanen Center, and Everytown for Gun Safety.
“The VICTIM Act would establish a grant program to help State, Tribal, and local law enforcement agencies improve their clearance rates for homicides and non-fatal shootings. Agencies can use these grant funds to train or hire additional detectives, investigators, or other police personnel that can investigate, solve, and respond to homicides and non-fatal shootings,” Patrick Yoes said, FOP National President. “These resources will help agencies punish the perpetrators of these crimes, provide justice for the victims and their families, and grant peace of mind to communities that experienced firearms violence.”
“The IACP is proud to support the VICTIM Act,” said Chief Dwight Henninger, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “By providing dedicated resources to law enforcement agencies to enhance their abilities to successfully investigate violent criminal acts, the VICTIM Act will bring justice to victims, remove violent offenders from our communities and bring closure to families. The IACP is grateful for the leadership that Senator Durbin and Senator Booker have shown on this critical issue and for their continuing support of law enforcement and victims of crime.”
“The MCCA thanks Senators Booker and Durbin for introducing the VICTIM Act,” said Chief Jeri Williams, President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “As law enforcement continues to respond to increased violent crime, additional resources are needed to address staffing challenges, enhance forensics capabilities, further deploy investigative tools, and bolster victims’ services. The VICTIM Act will provide critical grants that will help law enforcement improve clearance rates and ensure those who commit violent crimes are held accountable.”