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Crime and Punishment
New Evidence of a Ferguson Effect

For over a year, the Obama administration has vigorously denied the existence of a Ferguson Effect—the hypothesis, popularized by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, that the uptick in violent crime experienced in major cities was related to the high-profile controversies over police shootings. But now, a federally-funded study says that these episodes may indeed have undermined the legitimacy of police in the eyes of their communities, making witnesses less likely come forward, deterring officers from acting aggressively, and contributing to one of the biggest single-year murder rate increases in a quarter century. The Guardian reports:

A new justice department-funded study concludes that a version of the so-called “Ferguson Effect” is a “plausible” explanation for the spike in violent crime seen in most of the country’s largest cities in 2015, but cautions that more research is still needed.

The study, released by the National Institute of Justice on Wednesday, suggests three possible drivers for the more than 16% spike in homicide from 2014 to 2015 in 56 of the nation’s largest cities. But based on the timing of the increase, University of Missouri St Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld concluded, there is “stronger support” for some version of the Ferguson Effect hypothesis than its alternatives.

Debates about the existence of a Ferguson Effect have always been deeply distorted and corrosively politicized. When reports of a crime spike started to surface, many left-of-center analysts went to great lengths to deny that anything unusual was going on, perhaps because they perceived that it would undermine the criminal justice reform project. They also rushed to try and discredit the Ferguson Effect hypothesis, perceiving it as an attack on the people in places like Baltimore and Ferguson who protested what they saw as instances of police brutality. This perception was not entirely unwarranted: Law-and-order conservatives have sometimes used the hypothesis as a bludgeon against racial justice activists who they said were waging a “war on cops.”

But the truth is that the knee-jerk liberal defensiveness at the mention of a Ferguson Effect is probably unnecessary. At its essence, the theory (at least, the version of it supported in the latest research) only posits that there has been a breakdown in trust between police departments and the low-income minority communities they patrol, and that this mistrust came to a head after the unrest in major cities over the last year. It might counsel against a unilateral reduction in the police presence in high-crime areas, but it doesn’t counsel a more invasive law-enforcement campaign, either.

Rather, the fact that police are increasingly regarded with suspicion in at-risk communities means that states and localities need to invest more in building up the legitimacy of law-enforcement. This could include programs like Ceasefire, a successful early-intervention program pioneered in Boston, or even hiring more detectives, so that the police can solve more serious crimes without resorting to things like stop-and-frisk or arrest-sweeps. The existence of the Ferguson Effect shows that we need to think harder about how to make policing more effective and legitimate—but not necessarily more punitive. In fact, an overly-harsh campaign that some conservatives are calling for could further undermine trust and make the problem worse.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “that the uptick in violent crime experienced in major cities was related to the high-profile controversies over police shootings”. There is no controversy: the shootings were largely found to be justified, and when they weren’t appropriate action was taken. The surge (not uptick) in violence is due entirely to the Obama administration’s condoning it.

  • Fat_Man

    “How Chicago’s Streets Became the Wild West: The Ferguson effect, failed city leadership and an ill-advised deal with the ACLU have made the city ever more dangerous. By Heather Mac Donald on June 16, 2016

    “Someone was shot in Chicago every 150 minutes during the first five months of 2016. Someone was murdered every 14 hours, and the city saw nearly 1,400 nonfatal shootings and 240 fatalities from gunfire. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one an hour, topping the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings. The violence is spilling from the Chicago’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the business district downtown. Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

    “The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers’ withdrawing from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the Ferguson effect. Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated media and political discourse, from the White House on down. Cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities have responded by backing away from pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the vacuum.

    * * *

    “Police officers who try to intervene in this disorder often face virulent pushback. “People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest,” a police officer who has worked a decade and a half on the South Side told me. “People want to fight you; they swear at you. ‘F— the police, we don’t have to listen,’ they say. I haven’t seen this kind of hatred towards the police in my career.”

    “Antipolice animus is nothing new in Chicago. But the post-Ferguson Black Lives Matter narrative about endemically racist cops has made the street dynamic much worse. A detective told me: “From patrol to investigation, it’s almost an undoable job now. If I get out of my car, the guys get hostile right away.” Bystanders sometimes aggressively interfere, requiring more officers to control the scene.

    * * *

    “Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the city’s corporation counsel signed an agreement in August 2015 giving the ACLU oversight of stop activity. …

    “On Jan. 1 the department rolled out a new form for documenting investigatory stops to meet ACLU demands. The new form, called a contact card, was two pages long, with 70 fields of information to be filled out. This template dwarfs even arrest reports and takes at least 30 minutes to complete. Every card goes to the ACLU for review.

    “The arrangement had the intended deterrent effect: Police stops dropped nearly 90% in the first quarter of 2016. Criminals have become emboldened by the police disengagement. “Gangbangers now realize that no one will stop them,”

    • Matt B

      Reminds me of the movie Brazil, when Jonathan Pryce dissolves into a whirlwind of paperwork.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Actually that was Robert Deniro, but the allusion was perfect!

        • Andrew Allison

          Actually, it was Robert De Niro [grin]

          • f1b0nacc1

            Touche!…I stand corrected!

            (actually, I sit corrected, but you get the idea)

    • Virulent is right.

  • qet

    Another disappointment from TAI. Whenever someone calls for “investment,” you know he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And can TAI please stop using hackneyed terms from the Left-liberal lexicon? “At-risk communities”? Really TAI? And is “research” really needed to demonstrate a “breakdown in trust” between police and blacks? Isn’t that distrust already, you know, proved by the whole BLM thing?

    TAI is at its best when treating politics and policy critically, skeptically, suspiciously even. LIke this “Ceasefire” program in Boston, for instance. Something tells me that its praises are probably more to do with ideology than with efficacy.

    • Andrew Allison

      Whenever someone calls for (social) investment he’s seeking the public teat. And can we once and for all acknowledge that Black Lives only matter in the 5% or so cases where the perpetrator is a white policeman trying to do his job.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Leave it to the elites to take the obvious and make it complicated.

  • Frank Natoli

    If your neighborhood was dangerous, if you were afraid every time you walked from your house to the subway or to a bus, if you held your breath every time one of your children was outside, and you SAW someone in your neighborhood murdered, or raped, or beaten, or robbed, who’s “side” would you be on when the detectives arrived?
    In 1988, David Simon, then a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, took the entire year to be embedded with Baltimore homicide. He then wrote a book “Homicide, a Year on the Killing Streets” about what he saw, no names changed, no sugar coating, the real thing. This is what he found was the answer to the above, page 34:
    It is a God given truth: Everyone lies. And this most basic of axioms has three corollaries:
    A. Murderers lie because they have to.
    B. Witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to.
    C. Everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate
    information to a cop.

    That’s right. THEY don’t think like you and me, and they really never have. If everything wrong with America is self inflicted, THIS is the most horrific example. Some people never learn.

  • f1b0nacc1

    So the science is settled then?

  • FriendlyGoat

    “In fact, an overly-harsh campaign that some conservatives are calling for could further undermine trust and make the problem worse.”
    Apparently, world observers will soon be witnessing a no-holds-barred style of war on crime in the Philippines to include not only police but supposedly some citizen involvement. How well that works or does not work perhaps will be on display.

    • Andrew Allison

      Which has what, exactly, to do with the subject of the post?

      • FriendlyGoat

        We have crime-ridden places and problems with finding a balance on how to police them. The Philippines has a new president-elect who plans to try a particular style of over-reaction in his crime-ridden places. If they follow through, the world will perhaps learn what to do (or not) in a place like the ghettos of Chicago.

        • Andrew Allison

          I rest my case (that you refuse to address the issue).

        • f1b0nacc1

          I have no love for the new president in the Philippines, but I should note that he was elected largely based upon his promises to deal with the out of control crime/security issues, and upon his record for doing so. Of course his extra-legal methods were appalling, but I wonder about how much outrage there would be here if we had similar troubles. I have been to Mindanao, it was like living under siege.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There is “some” possibility that “some” of the appalling methods proposed for The Philippines will meet with “some” success. In speaking of their soon-coming experiment, I was not suggesting that they don’t have SERIOUS problems (or that we don’t too, in places.) I really don’t know what the consequences will be in The Philippines. Is it possible to have a “little bit” of vigilante action which actually helps and is not a free-for-all of meanness? I don’t know. We should watch and see what happens.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Franklin’s comment about liberty and security seems most apt here. I am not willing to sacrifice the rule of law so easily. A ‘little bit’ of vigilante action is too much, however effective (or not) it might be. There are few things that the State should do, but law enforcement is certainly one of them. When it fails, falling back on extra-legal means is a sign of very bad things to come….
            None of that means that citizens don’t have the unquestioned right of self-defense, nor do I endorse a ‘government knows best’ attitude, but when you have leadership that rejects the rule of law in pursuit of the policy goals, be it Duterte or Obama, it is a dangerous time.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Whatever the actions of Duterte’s government (if as repressive as expected or not ), and whatever effect they have on American politics in a short term (if any) are unlikely to be a rebuke on President Obama who is going out of office and more likely to bear on whether Americans think it is a good idea to elect President Trump. I really don’t know how any of this plays out. That’s why I mused on this Philippine situation as “something to watch” in the first place.

  • SDN

    “the hypothesis as a bludgeon against racial justice activists who they said were waging a “war on cops.””

    Reality is not a hypothesis. And the cops are acting rationally: if blacks hate the police, then police won’t be around to hate on Let us know when you’re tired of rule by warlord.

  • PhonecardMike

    Let me simplify it.

    Enforcing the law is considered conservative.

    Pandering to the black community is liberal.

    • Fat_Man

      They are not pandering to the black community. They are pandering to gangbangers and leftist agitators. The real community is terrified.

  • Transcen Dental

    It would go a long way to be able to remove the protection from firing that unions provide to bad cops. Yes, a lot of the police shootings end up being justified, but there are always a handful of bad apples that abuse their power. They rarely get reprimands, and never get fired due to their union protection. Those few corrupt, racist bigotted (whatever – just plain f$%kheads), infect the force like a cancer.
    The ability to discipline and fire bad cops would improve both the actions of the rest of the officers, and how they interact in the communities where they work. Just sayin.

  • InklingBooks

    The best proof of the Ferguson effect is that a similar effect in affluent communities, call it the Richtown effect, is assumed as a matter of course. In affluent communities, when there’s a major crime, it’s assumed as a matter of course that more police patrols and stops of suspicions people are needed.

  • Icepilot

    The critical, central pathology has little to do with policing. Urban war zones exhibit a complete breakdown of social norms because the family structure no longer exists on such dependency Plantations.

  • Murder is up quite stiffly in some areas yet overall crime is still down and at least has not decisively broken its slow decline we have enjoyed for twenty years. At the same time line-of-duty homicide of cops is also down some 50%. The implication is threefold: the cops have withdrawn from the urban battlefield. That’s what the BLMers said they wanted, right? Mission accomplished. Secondly there is a radical shift in the ‘at risk’ areas that has shattered the declines everyone else is experiencing and thirdly, it means that outside the Thunderdome of the ghettos, crime is down even further than the general stats would suggest. If these trendlines continue then white America will be something approaching a crime-free zone while black America is in murderous chaos something like Haiti on the Hudson. When will it reverse? Only when the black residents who are the victims rather than the perpetrators decide to band together and provide their own security so the justice system can then operate, put away these… um, SuperPredators is not too grande a term…. and begin the slow dig out. Most likely this will never happen.

  • Gritsforbreakfast

    Read the study, not the Guardian. You overstate. He posited three “plausible” hypotheses then tested them with data. (And an odd three; he could have made other “plausible” hypothesis choices.) Concluded no evidence yet for Ferguson effect, though national data isn’t yet available. The Ferguson effect is a ridiculous concept: It’s insulting to imply professional peace officers don’t do their job and stop protecting people because a protester hurt their feelings or somebody said something mean in the newspaper. How Heather MacDonald’s schtick gets labeled “pro-cop” I’ll never understand. It projects low motives on cops and assumes low enough ethics that they’d be willing to act on them en masse. I don’t know any liberals or even BLM activists who, in their heart of hearts, are THAT cynical about law enforcement. The whole debate is just foolish political posturing.

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