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by Peter Moskos

February 9, 2016

Your Personal Ferguson Effect

There's an interesting comment in a previous post where an officer describes what he calls "my personal Ferguson Effect." Two similar cases. One cop shot and killed a non-compliant unarmed person. The other cop did not shoot a non compliant person and is now dead.
The knowledge after the fact of whether the suspect had a gun or not is certainly emotionally powerful in forming our judgements of these officers, but it is irrelevant legally to the officer on the scene attempting to effect an arrest of a non-compliant suspect.
The fact that the media and the masses apply this rule of hindsight to police use of force and are pressuring police agencies to do the same for internal investigations makes me fearful that the courts will soon start pushing to adopt this same rule of hindsight. That is my personal Ferguson Effect.
Leaving aside these specific cases, I'm curious if other officers have had specific moments in the past couple years -- their own Ferguson Effect -- that changed the way you do their job. Was there some discussions, protests, riots, news report, prosecutions, politician, Benghazi (I'm kidding about the last one, I hope) that changed the way you do your job?


Andy D said...

For me it genuinely WAS the aftermath of Ferguson, specifically once all the reports were in and the facts known and My coworkers and I realized that genuinely you can 1) approach a person for a minor offense (walking in the road) 2) get attacked and have no choice but to fight for your life 3) kill the suspect, 4) see social media (and then the actual media) bring your life and career to a screeching end over something completely made up and 5) be ruined financially, professionally and in every other way, all for no reason but doing exactly what you are supposed to do. I remember looking at each other and saying, essentially, "why even bother? Unless they are literally killing someone in front of your face, why even bother to engage in proactive work? Just drive on by."

Soon after was the pool party riot in Texas where the officer ended up resigning. We all looked at each other and said "They shouldn't have even bothered trying to disperse the crowd. If anything, maybe they should have shown up, called 'PLEASE leave the pool!" over their PA systems, and then, when they got no compliance, just apologized to the residents who called, and said 'we will come back and take the report later' and driven away."

CollegeCop said...

I haven't had a personal Ferguson moment, mainly because since the second I left the academy I've worked under the dual assumptions that people view up as down (in other words, people tend to cheer for the underdog and people don't see cops as underdog, they see criminals that way) and that every.single.person. I deal with is actually an undercover TV reporter with a hidden camera trying to catch me doing something bad (I started working in '96 before everyone had a camera-phone, it wasn't that hard for me to adapt).

But to be totally honest, it really does help being black. The worst I get the the occasional muttered "uncle tom/house negro" insult (funny thing is, sometimes it's from white offenders). The white officers, on the other hand, well, they have tended to catch unrelenting hell every day for the last couple years.

Also, as a campus police officer I tend to not be in the roughest situations all too often, though over the last almost 19 years, there have been plenty of exceptions given where some of our facilities and activities are. Still, I work in an intensely liberal situation (well, as 'liberal' as we get here in Texas lol) and you can bet that every time some other leo makes the news, it affects us and how we deal with our institution/community very quickly.