WASHINGTON (March 8 2022)—The rise in homicides that began in 2020 and continues today is a major concern of policymakers and the public, and rightly so. Since data collection began in the 1960s, the highest single-year increase in homicides—a spike of nearly 30 percent—was recorded in 2020.

While there is still much to learn about the spike, it is clear that there is an increase in violent crime and fewer resources for law enforcement to fight this problem. Law enforcement needs pragmatic, concrete strategies to assist them in effectively addressing this surge and keeping the public safe.

In a new policy paper, R Street Institute Resident Fellow Maya Szilak examines one promising strategy: citations in lieu of arrest. This practice allows low-level, non-violent offenders with low flight risk to be summoned to appear in court at a later date and released at the scene.

Currently, 80 percent of arrests made each year are for low-level, non-violent crimes; only five percent are for violent crimes. Szilak utilizes the available data to show how citations free up time, money and resources for officers to focus on violent crime.

“The surge in violent crime, particularly homicides, is real. Law enforcement needs more time to focus on violent crime,” said Szilak. “We can’t waste limited resources arresting and jailing people for petty offenses like trespass or public urination. Give petty offenders a citation, hold them accountable and let police get back to their jobs patrolling the streets for violent criminals.”

Available evidence indicates that giving officers the option to issue a citation instead of making an arrest would not only provide them more time to focus on violent crimes, but would also minimize jail crowding; improve community relations; reduce risk to officers and civilians in arrests; and save money for cash-strapped state and local governments.

Three key points:

  1. The surge in violent crime, particularly homicides, warrants increased attention from law enforcement.

  2. Police need better methods to handle petty offenses that will free up time and resources for violent crimes.

  3. Issuing citations in lieu of arrest improves community relations; reduces recidivism and jail crowding; and allows officers to spend more time addressing the surge in violent crime.

Read the full study here.