This op-ed was originally published by Greenville News.

It’s an election year, which means candidates at the local, state, and national levels are busy trying to win over South Carolina voters. But voters in the Palmetto State will not be impressed by empty rhetoric and vague promises. South Carolinians – and voters across the country – want candidates with specific action plans to tackle the most pressing problems facing communities.

Violent crime is one such problem, especially in South Carolina. The state’s violent crime rate is well above the national average and, despite some modest dips in recent years, remains higher than before the pandemic. Luckily, there are proven solutions that candidates could adopt to show they are serious about public safety.The first is simple: properly fund the police. Studies show that having more police officers reduces violent crime, but police departments across South Carolina – including in Columbia, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach – and the country are facing acute staffing shortages. Supporting law enforcement and ensuring that police departments have adequate funding to attract and retain quality new officers is critical for public safety.

Funding also allows police departments to ensure their officers receive quality training. Proper training not only reduces crime, it can help heal police-community relations, since well-trained officers are less likely to use excessive force. And when there is more trust between police and the communities they serve, residents and officers are more likely to work together to prevent and solve violent crimes.I’ve witnessed this firsthand through my work with S.C. Sen. Tim Scott and with Public Safety Solutions for America, which introduced me to Serve & Connect. The Columbia-based organization works with officers and community members to create mutual trust and is a powerful model for improving community health and safety.Candidates should also point to real-world models of success. For example, Dallas has reduced violent crime for three consecutive years while most other major cities experienced crime spikes. It did so by implementing proven strategies backed by research and data. These included focusing police resources on the highest-crime areas; identifying people most likely to be involved in crime and offering them support services; cleaning up rundown areas; and partnering with community groups focused on preventing violence. While specific tactics will look different in different communities, candidates should emphasize the importance of ensuring strategies are based on evidence.

Another critical point for candidates to keep in mind is that the criminal justice system is not meant to manage societal issues such as homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness – national issues that may also be top of mind for voters this fall. Law enforcement in particular is simply not specialized enough to handle these issues. Instead, better-equipped community-based organizations should take the lead on these problems, allowing police more time to focus on preventing and solving serious crimes. 

These types of smart solutions to violent crime are overwhelmingly popular among voters, especially conservatives.

Recent polling from The Adams Project found that 86% of Republican primary voters support rehabilitative policies like those found in the First Step Act, a 2018 bill that implemented evidence-based solutions inspired by successes in states like Texas and Georgia. These voters are right to support it – the recidivism rate for people released from federal prison under the First Step Act is 37% lower than that of similarly situated people released before it passed.

Most Americans view crime as a “very important” issue going into the 2024 election. It’s time for candidates to show they are serious about crime by adopting a proven policy platform.