Is the Ferguson Effect Creating a More Hesitant Police Officer?

Is the Ferguson Effect Creating a More Hesitant Police Officer?

Each week, it seems like there is a new police officer under the intense scrutiny of the American population. The officer’s worst moment forever captured on film from all angles and played millions of times through digital platforms before becoming viral. The clip makes its way onto news channels and international news websites. The incident is broken down into freeze frames and analyzed by the nation’s top experts while the officer’s intentions are picked apart, no matter the legitimacy of his or her actions.

This sounds like an officer’s worst nightmare, so I can see the validity of FBI Director, James Comey’s theory of the Ferguson Effect.

Comey defines the Ferguson Effect as the rise in police officers holding back on making stops for fear of ending up the next YouTube “bad cop” sensation. He believes that a spike in violent crimes are partially the result of officers becoming reluctant to step out of their car to make an interaction with a suspicious person because of the near constant onslaught of cameras threatening to film their every police tactic and remove it from its proper context.

A year of unrest in Ferguson, Mo., brought increased scrutiny of police and Comey believes the idea of restraint by cops in the wake of criticism is at least partly to blame for a surge in violent crime in some cities.

The crime spike is showing up in varying cities, big and small, while others have avoided a spike altogether, CNN reported. Cleveland and Milwaukee have already blown past the number of murders reported in 2014, with more than two months left in the year. Dallas and Tampa have reached a pace to surpass their 2014 murder totals. Meanwhile, other cities, including New York, haven’t seen a similar increase.

“In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls a violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?” Comey asked during his speech at his alma mater of the University of Chicago Law School. “I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is changing behavior.”

The theory doesn’t come without its own scrutiny. Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said there was no evidence that police officers are “shirking” their duties given the increased scrutiny on law enforcement.

Other police chiefs do not welcome the idea of the Ferguson Effect because they would have to admit their police officers are not doing their jobs. They find it disappointing to believe that the U.S. police regime as it is constructed today can’t provide security under scrutiny.

Some find the idea irrelevant because most police officers are equipped with a body camera when they go out on duty. Every move they make will be recorded and they will have to answer for their actions whether an onlooker gets footage of the event or not. The difference between body camera footage and onlooker footage is police departments don’t have control over who can see the footage from an onlooker’s device. It can be quickly uploaded to a social media site and gain hundreds of views within the hour. It can also sway the public opinion about an event even before an investigation has begun.

Many believe that what Comey is seeing is just the evolution of policing, which will eventually make officers better. The availability and widespread acceptance of being recorded opens up the experience of watching what one has done wrong and learn from those mistakes, which is one of the reasons why police departments started outfitting their officers with body cams to begin with.

Despite an obvious lack of support and evidence for the theory, Comey believes he is just trying to start a conversation about whether the pendulum has swung too far. What do you believe?

Is there some validity to Comey’s Ferguson Effect?

Do you believe that the rise in crime is due partially in part by the reluctance of a police officer to engage?

I look forward to your thoughts, reactions and opinions. Let’s talk!

Posted by Sydny Shepard on Nov 10, 2015

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