Comey: The Ferguson Effect Lives!

Was it “historic” that President Barack Obama mentioned a twitter hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter?  So DeRay McKesson says.

President Obama’s unprompted defense of BlackLivesMatter was powerful given the context — he defended the movement to an audience consisting primarily of law enforcement leaders. 

Then again, he didn’t actually “defend the movement” so much as warn it.


What could that mean, “take seriously the job police have”?  FBI Director Jim Comey is there to translate his boss’ words.

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said on Friday that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

Ah, the dreaded Ferguson Effect.  All those mean things people are saying about cops, just for killing a black guy here and there, and the occasional white guy, and women too, is hurting cops’ feelings, and so they don’t want to play cop anymore.

With his remarks, Mr. Comey lent the prestige of the F.B.I., the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals. But he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion and that it may be just one of many factors that are contributing to the rise in crime, like cheaper drugs and an increase in criminals who are being released from prison.

Or it may just be spin to shift the blame off police officers for failing to do the job for which they’re putatively trained, to which they’re sworn, and for which they’re paid, because we’ve failed to show them the love they demand.  Why won’t we respect them?  Why won’t we realize they’re the good guys, and it’s not their fault that they keep shooting people for no good reason because someone scared them?

Aren’t police entitled to be afraid of the dark?

“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Mr. Comey said in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School.

The FBI is remarkably good at pulling out data when it serves to make its point. But as Matt Apuzza and Mike Schmidt explain, as did Cristian Farias before them, there’s no data to show that the Ferguson Effect is anything other than public relations spin.  Hell, Comey says he has a “strong sense” about a “chill wind.”  Isn’t that almost the same thing as, say, data, evidence, proof?

Mr. Comey’s remarks caught officials by surprise at the Justice Department, where his views are not shared at the top levels. Holding the police accountable for civil rights violations has been a top priority at the department in recent years, and some senior officials do not believe that scrutiny of police officers has led to an increase in crime. While the department had no immediate comment on Friday, several officials privately fumed at Mr. Comey’s suggestion.

The DoJ has spent a good deal of time and effort investigating police departments around the country, where it’s had the misfortune of learning that they don’t really give a damn about whether the other guy lives, as long as they do.  Apparently, neither does the FBI.

Among the nation’s law enforcement officials, there is sharp disagreement over whether there is any credence to the so-called Ferguson effect, which refers to the protests that erupted in the summer of 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., over a police shooting.

In Oakland, Calif., for example, homicides are on the rise after two years of decline. But shootings are down, and the overall crime rate is about the same, said Oakland’s police chief, Sean Whent. “Our officers are very, very sensitive to the climate right now, but I haven’t seen any evidence to say our officers aren’t doing their jobs,” Chief Whent said.

Cops are “sensitive” to being the catalyst for riots, front page stories, viral Youtube videos, showing them violating people’s rights, killing people needlessly, behaving poorly?  They should be. If they can’t control their arrogance, disdain for the public, their inability to wait until there actually is a threat before gunning someone down in the street, then revealing their abuse and misconduct to the world is exactly what should happen.

But Mr. Comey said that he had been told by many police leaders that officers who would normally stop to question suspicious people are opting to stay in their patrol cars for fear of having their encounters become worldwide video sensations. That hesitancy has led to missed opportunities to apprehend suspects, he said, and has decreased the police presence on the streets of the country’s most violent cities.

“I’ve been told by a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video,” Mr. Comey said, adding that many leaders and officers whom he had spoken to said they were afraid to address the issue publicly.

Don’t want to be the face of a viral video?  There are two ways to prevent it from happening. There’s the Comey way, shut down disclosure of police violence and abuse, or there’s the alternative of police not murdering people.

Are “many leaders and officers . . . afraid to address the issue publicly”?  They seem to be afraid of quite a bit these days. Afraid of the public. Afraid of children. Afraid of not making it home for dinner.

And now Jim Comey says they’re afraid of the mean things people say about them for all the other things they’re afraid of.  If we would only stop noticing the dead bodies littering the streets and show police how much we love and respect them anyway, everything would be better.  And that is what President Obama was talking about.

And it’s incumbent on activists to take seriously the job police have.

So that means they’re going to shoot people sometimes who didn’t deserve to die. Suck it up. Stop making cops feel bad about it.

8 thoughts on “Comey: The Ferguson Effect Lives!

  1. Mort

    additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressiveIf the cops have become hesitant to do their jobs in the wake of people being mad when they find out cops are being violent thugs, then that suggests, to me at least, that the cops don’t think they can do their jobs without being violent thugs.

    And if that is the case, maybe higher crime is the price we pay for cops not being violent thugs. Frankly, I’m OK with that.

  2. DaveL

    the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

    I have to wonder what made them conclude cops are getting less aggressive? Have they considered the possibility that it’s the actual conduct driving the scrutiny and criticism that is changing the way the public approaches the whole idea of the Rule of Law? Incidents like what happened with Jonathan Crawford, Akai Gurley, and Corey Jones are hardly ringing endorsements of the benefits of the law-abiding lifestyle.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s you problem, never focusing on the salient point of how it makes the cops feel. Why always so obsessed with the needlessly dead when there are police feelings to think about?

  3. John Barleycorn

    Well, you have to James credit for not just comming out and saying what he really thinks.

    “If we are not allowed to break the law we are going to take our ball home and not play anymore!”

    Well, maybe not. Could have been the speach writers with a law degree from the FBI let a few things slip or perhsps were conspiring with the DOJ public relations guys over beers in some overly lit bar with too many brass fuxtures in Georgetown somewhere.

    Oh well… Could be worse. His retoric really isn’t that far away from the initial momentum needed to enjoy a really good run down a perfectly saturated slip and slide to a never never land where obedience and extra-legal lattutite are the only missing ingredients to achieving tranquility and safety for the kids. Or is it safety for the kids and tranquility. I can never remember the order?

    Should be interesting to see what other goodies get thrown into this simmering pot of retoric stew simmering away at the bottom of the hill.

    P.S. I am kind of bummed that you weren’t out in the lobby giving away SJ stickers and FL t-shirts in-between doing a live podcast in your tan suit to show off your mad
    technology skills via social media.

    Just how the heck do you think you are gonna compete for the up and comming talent if James takes this campaign of his on tour and starts having his recruiters give away panties, t-shirts, and hats with the FBI logo on them?

    You would have only had to make a few river crissings without a bridge to make it to the campus of the University of Chicago Law School. WTF?

  4. James

    “In a stop that never took place, we may or may not have prevented a crime that could have possibly happened.” – Jim ‘Top Cop’ Comey on the science of policing.

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