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by Peter Moskos

May 12, 2016

"Is the juice worth the squeeze?"

The FBI Director Comey says in the New York Times that:
A “viral video effect” — with officers wary of confronting suspects for fear of ending up on a video — “could well be at the heart” of a spike in violent crime in some cities.

“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime — the getting out of your car at two in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’” he told reporters.
There are a few interesting things here. This time Comey is being criticized from the Right. From the head of the FOP:
"He’s basically saying that police officers are afraid to do their jobs with absolutely no proof."
Actually, no. He's not.

Previously Comey was criticized only from the Left:
He first raised the idea in October that a “chill wind” had deterred aggressive policing. But Obama administration officials distanced themselves from Mr. Comey at the time. They said they had seen no evidence to support the idea of a “Ferguson effect.”
Asked about his past views on the “Ferguson effect” as a possible explanation, Mr. Comey said he rejected that particular term, but added that he continued to hear from police officials in private conversations that “lots and lots of police officers” are pulling back from aggressive confrontations with the public because of viral videos.
Comey continues:
“I don’t know what the answer is, but holy cow, do we have a problem,” he said.

“It’s a complicated, hard issue, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. A whole lot of people are dying,” he said.

He said that the spike in violent crime deserves more national attention from scholars, the media, and the public.

“Something is happening,” he said. “A whole lot more people are dying this year than last year, and last year than the year before and I don’t know why for sure.”
We need more leaders like Comey.

It is time we started caring and stopped asking if violence is up (or working hard to deny it) and figure out why it's up and what we can do about it. More people are dying. Like global warming, we don't have to wait till we have 100 percent proof and understanding of every causal mechanism before saying it's time for action. We do not have -- and given the nature of society, social science, and statistics, we will never have -- "undeniable statistical proof." Put we do have evidence.

This is a good as time as any to reprint an email I received a short while back (reprinted with permission, anonymously):
My first week on the street, a guy in my squad told me to ask myself "if the juice is worth the squeeze" when making a stop. What he means, of course, is to ask whether some stop is worth my life and or job. Every stop means you are exercising legal authority, which means you have to use force if people refuse, which means any stop can turn into a use of force. If I stop this guy, for jaywalking or driving suspended or no tabs, and he fights me and I die, was it worth it?

And since I don't plan on dying today, if he fights me and he dies, what will the media say? "Man killed by cops over expired tabs".

What will my department say? They'll dig into the books and beef me for swearing or not using team tactics or not waiting for backup or whatever they can find. Am I gonna be suspended for months and risk indictment?

Every cop makes this calculation every time they consider a proactive stop. It used to be, if you had a good lawful reason for the stop, you could count on the community and the brass blaming the suspect for fighting with you if it turned into a use of force. Nowadays, that's an open question.

Meanwhile, a few guys a while back tackled a dude for selling weed and caught him with a loaded Mac 10. Probably a homicide prevented. But on the other hand, if he'd hit his head falling and died, what would the storyline be? "Cops Kill Black Man Over Weed"

I still do proactive work. But I find it hard to blame the guys who don't.
This officer makes another a points worth highlighting. If we take away police discretion and punish proactive policing, the result won't be less racism:
I know proactive policing isn't racist. In fact, I think it's anti-racist. Going to reactive 911 calls about "suspicious" characters based on nothing, that's way more racist.

[my previous posts on Comey: one and two.]


Thorn said...

I'm surprised Comey hasn't been muzzled more. It's a little surprising to see an appointed official deviate from the PR strategy his bosses want.

IrishPirate said...

Director of FBI has a 10 year term. Difficult to muzzle or force out. Sessions was forced out, but he was accused of misusing FBI resources for personal use.

By statute the position is set up to be quasi independent.

john mosby said...

That's a weird quote from National FOP. I wonder if it's taken out of context. Even the most spineless FOP Locals are acknowledging some sort of Ferguson effect; for the National to take the opposite position is surprising. Maybe Pasco was asked a different question from the one he appears to be answering?


Peter Moskos said...

Could be.