Now maybe we can focus on the how and why instead of denying reality? I wonder if all those so ideologically eager to call out "the myth of the widely debunked "Ferguson effect" will have any second thoughts. I kinda doubt it.
And kudos to Richard Rosenfeld who now has major second thoughts about his overly cited initial report denying any "Ferguson Effect." (That's the why science is supposed to work: you get new data, you reach new conclusions.)
It's worth quoting Rosenfeld a bit, from the Guardian:
For nearly a year, Richard Rosenfeld’s research on crime trends has been used to debunk the existence of a “Ferguson effect”, a suggested link between protests over police killings of black Americans and an increase in crime and murder. Now, the St Louis criminologist says, a deeper analysis of the increase in homicides in 2015 has convinced him that “some version” of the Ferguson effect may be real.Honestly, I don't think MacDonald is saying the solution is to "stop criticizing police." (Though, short of murder, it's hard to imagine MacDonald ever actually finding fault in anything police do.... But I'll let her speak for herself.)
Looking at data from 56 large cities across the country, Rosenfeld found a 17% increase in homicide in 2015. Much of that increase came from only 10 cities, which saw an average 33% increase in homicide.
“These aren’t flukes or blips, this is a real increase,” he said. “It was worrisome. We need to figure out why it happened.”
“The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” Rosenfeld said. Now, he said, that’s his “leading hypothesis”.
Rosenfeld said that the version of the Ferguson effect he now found plausible was very different from the one Mac Donald had described.
“She thinks the solution is to stop criticizing the police; I think the criticism is understandable, rooted in a history of grievance, and serves as a reminder that the police must serve and protect our most vulnerable communities.”
“The conclusion one draws from the Brennan Center’s report is, ‘Not much changed,’ and that is simply not true. In the case of homicide, a lot did change, in a very short period of time,” he said.
The problem isn't criticism of police, the problem is an effort to reign-in what some people see as out-of-control racist policing. This is being accomplished by concerted lawsuits, paperwork requirements, public accusations of racism, and, in Baltimore's case, straight up criminal prosecution of police officers who arrested a man who later died.
And anybody who even attempts to discuss these issues, even in a thoughtful and nuanced manner, such as FBI director Comey, could be slapped down by none other than President Obama himself!
And no, I don't like the term "Ferguson Effect" either, but enough with the semantics. Lives are being lost. Maybe "viral video effect" will catch on, but the "Ferguson Effect" is the term most people are using to describe a very real phenomenon of less proactive policing leading to more crime. So be it.
And now be enguard for specious arguments about "declining legitimacy" from the police-are-the-problem brigade. The problem isn't legitimacy. The problem isn't even poverty (that is a separate problem). The problem is violence linked to public drug dealing and people who believe that policing has no effect on preventing violence. Too many people criticize even effective policing and really do want police to do less. They're not evil people. They're just wrong.
It's also ironic that the same people who refuse to give police credit for any crime decline are now reflexively blaming police for "not doing their job." Which is it? Do police matter or not? I think they do. Either police are irrelevant to crime prevention (see: "root-causes") or they're not. First let's admit that police matter and then we can get on with the tougher job of figuring out what exactly we do want police to do.
It's not that police "aren't doing their job," it's that we, society, #BlackLivesMatter, many academics, and ideological "progressives" (going right up to the President), are redefining police work by insisting (quite loudly at times) that the main criminal and social justice issue of our time is racial bias, police misconduct, and the overuse of lethal force against black men.
It's not that police suddenly and collectively decided not to "do their job." It's that police have gotten the message we're sending them: we want less racially biased policing, less use of lethal force, and nothing controversial on YouTube. Call it what you will, this "is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior." That's not crazy speculation; that's the stated objective of police "reformers." The fact that this shift in policing seems to be having lethal consequences -- through less police discretion and less proactive policing -- is tough pill for many to swallow.
I can't say this enough, but if you think criminally charging six Baltimore police officers for doing their job -- at least five of whom are guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- if you think that doesn't have an impact on police discretion? Well, you're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
More recently police in Baltimore have been under the gun for A) killing two very armed suspects and B) killing an armed robber holing up a cop. It's like we've moved from "police didn't have to kill that innocent man!" to "why did police have to shoot that man armed with a gun?!"
Consider this: Baltimore police killed fewer people last year than probably ever before. Chicago police stopped fewer people, blacks in particular, than they have in many years. In both cases it's not that police decided to stop working. For police officers, the "juice" is no longer worth "the squeeze." Police are responding, as they should, to public (and ACLU) pressure to do less bad, particularly to people of color.
Homicides in both Baltimore and Chicago, particularly among people of color, are way up. Maybe decreasing abuse at the hands of the state is more important that preventing homicides among our citizens. Reasonable people can disagree, but I don't think so. But maybe -- and this is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about -- maybe there is a very real trade off between violent crime and aggressive policing.
Community policing, nice though it is, does little to address the criminal class, the rubber-hits-the-road moment when police engage violent people in the street even though at that very moment they might be doing nothing wrong.
It's not like we don't know who is likely to be killed and who is likely to be the killer. We do. Not with 100 percent certainly, but we can certain vastly narrow down the pool of suspects. Then what? Effective policing will not always be pretty (or harass only the guilty). Do we want police to engage drug dealers standing around or are they "innocent" except at the very moment when they're slinging crack or pulling out a gun to shoot somebody?
If we do focus on violence, and we should, policing will be racially disproportionate because violence in our country is racially disproportionate. And focusing on violence means focusing on those who commit violence, ideally before they commit the violence. That's the civil liberties part of this. And no, it's not all or nothing, liberty or repression, but perhaps we need to accept we can't have it all.
Instead of only looking at fault, why not look at good policing? The NYPD has shown you can keep crime down and shoot very few people. In New York we've seen fewer innocent people stopped and -- to the great surprise of Heather MacDonald and almost every cop in New York City -- have not see an increase in homicides. (The key variable, I think, is that New York City has seen the virtual elimination of public drug dealing.) But who in the police-are-the-problem brigade will admit that the NYPD, warts and all, does a pretty good job? That would be start.