The Real Ferguson Effect
Even skeptics are admitting the "racist cop" narrative is causing crime.
Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, who told us last year that there was no connection between anti-police protests and increased crime and murder rates, now appears to be eating his words. A deeper analysis of crime statistics now leads Rosenfeld to believe that the so-called “Ferguson effect” may be real after all.
“These aren’t flukes or blips, this is a real increase” in crime, Rosenfeld recently admitted. “We need to figure out why it happened.”
Welcome to reality, Mr. Rosenfeld.
The Ferguson effect refers to the phenomenon that law enforcement officers working inner city streets are becoming less likely to engage with minorities for fear of losing their jobs over racism accusations. This reduced engagement in turn encourages criminals to break the law. The term comes from the city in which police officer Darren Wilson was accused of wrongfully shooting suspect Michael Brown during a physical altercation. Wilson was exonerated, but leftist race-baiters continue to use the incident as a symbol of police brutality and oppressive law enforcement against minorities.
FBI Director James Comey first suggested that the Ferguson effect was partly responsible for a crime spike last October. Barack Obama’s White House promptly threw him under the bus, choosing to embrace the Black Lives Matter view that police are the problem, not the criminals. (Which was why Obama awarding medals of valor to several officers recently was problematic.)
Yet Comey remains convinced that a conscious or unconscious reluctance to engage potential criminals exists among urban law enforcement. Referring to the phenomenon as a “viral video effect,” Comey said last week. “There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime.”
The Left’s response has been typical. Accusations have been hurled at Comey and Rosenfeld for engaging in an “evidence-free debate,” and for cherry-picking data to support their hypothesis.
Leftists specialize in fact-free debates because they can say anything they want and don’t have to worry about being proved wrong. Unfortunately, this debate does have some pesky facts that back up the Ferguson effect theory.
In 2015, the first full year after the Ferguson shooting, there was a 17% increase in homicides across 56 large cities. Among that sample, 10 cities saw a 33% increase in homicides. All 10 of those cities have large black populations, and most of the murder victims were black or Hispanic men.
Leftist organizations have been tying themselves in knots trying to explain away the Ferguson effect as fantasy. The Brennan Center claims that the overall increase in the murder rate in the nation’s largest cities is not indicative of a crime wave. They also use poverty and the heroin epidemic as an excuse for the rise, not reduced policing.
Rosenfeld counters that the focus on poverty does not explain the rapid rise in the murder rate over a one-year period. The same can be said for the heroin epidemic, which has been on law enforcement’s radar since 2011.
Violence and criminal behavior can have many causes — poverty, lack of education, broken homes, histories of abuse — and these causes often work in combination. But reduced policing will also lead to increased criminal behavior when it becomes apparent in at-risk neighborhoods that the cops are not going to get out of their cars at 2:00 a.m.
Back in the early 1990s, leftists didn’t want to credit increased policing for dramatically reducing crime, and they are conversely unwilling to recognize a lack of policing for a rise in crime now. They would much prefer to frame the whole argument in racial and poverty terms because it fits their divisive narrative.
The fact remains that crime is on the upswing in many American cities, and unless law enforcement has the support it needs to do something about it, we may be heading back to the bad old days when good people just didn’t go out after dark.