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by Peter Moskos

June 8, 2016

Is this what the Ferguson Effect looks like?

Take this fight at North Avenue Beach in Chicago. Seems like mostly a bunch of stupid frat bro's, one wearing an SAE tank top. ("These people" also have problems.)

Why does does this have to do with the Ferguson (or "Viral Video") Effect? Well, if you're looking for an example of how fear or negative publicity can impact policing and create disorder and crime, this is a good example.

I mean, unless you're in Chicago, you probably haven't seen this video because there are no police to be seen. I hate to think this is future of policing. But in terms of limited bad policing, lack of police really does completely solve the problem.

But there should have been police here. I used to bike by here quite frequently as a kid. There was always a phalanx of cops hanging around the beach areas, flirting and keeping order. Had there been, maybe the fight never would have happened. Maybe it never would have gotten out of hand. Or maybe a half-dozen cops would have entered the fray and physically restored order -- fists, pepper spray, maybe a billy club -- and a few idiots would be led off in cuffs. But then we would have criticism of police excessive force -- maybe a lawsuit by the ACLU, definite discourtesy, somebody would say police were the instigator, "stop" paperwork would not have been filled out -- and the focus wouldn't be on the idiots fighting but on the nature of the police response. But what if there is no police response and nobody calls 911? Problem solved, at least from a viral police video perspective. Like it never happened:
CPD says they did have officers in the area, but did not get any reports of fights on the beach. No arrests were made.
Crime even goes down (at least by the official stats). That's what happens when you don't have proactive policing. See, officially, this never happened. No arrests were made. (Though later reports do say a few arrests were made along with a few going to the hospital.) Luckily, nobody had a gun and started shooting.

And, best of all, nobody can fault the police.

If you want police, just call 911. An officer will be with you shortly. Crime is up. Boy, is it up in Chicago. But of course, say some, we really have no idea why. No clue. Meanwhile... Chicago police are understaffed. Recruitment is down. Chicago police fear lawsuits from the ACLU. Paperwork requirements tell cops never to "stop" people unless absolutely necessary. Chicago police officers don't want to be in the next viral video. Police are not being proactive. Chaos ensues.

But really, who can say for sure?


Kyle said...

Prof. have you watched Kingsman movie? it's good and here one epic church fight scene.

Jay Livingston said...

Withdrawal of cops leading to uncontrolled violence is not the Ferguson effect. It’s just the last step in the sequence. The Full Ferguson would be

In the normal course of patrol and arrest . . .
1. Cops brutalize and maybe kill White Fratboy offenders (or maybe non-offenders).
2. The White Fratboy Community protests.
3. Local politicians take the WFC listen seriously.
4. Local politicians fail to say that it’s OK for cops to brutalize and maybe kill WFC offenders.
5. Cops get pissed at politicians.
6. Cops withdraw from proactive patrol of WF areas.
7. Brennan Center says that WF violence is not increasing.
8. Heather MacDonald says in WSJ that withdrawal of cops explains even the crimes that occurred before the police withdrawal.
9. Fox says White Fratboys should ignore killings by cops and focus on WF-on-WF violence.

Moskos said...

No, that is not the "Ferguson Effect." That's a summary of what's happened in policing the past two years (with the clever swicheroo).

The Ferguson/Viral Video Effect is *not* the whole series of events but specifically the link between unjust criticism (and sometimes just criticism) of policing, less proactive policing, and more disorder and crime.

But maybe you've highlight the problem in talking about the Ferguson Effect: We're talking about two different things.

EA5 said...

Do you have any thoughts on how much the so called Furguson effect is a result of lower numbers of police officers rather than shifts in tactics? I know that during the recession, local governments shed all sorts of jobs, along with reducing raises, money for training, etc. In Washington DC, one of the cities with the highest increase in murders, we've struggled to replace retiring officers. And I've read that the number of officers nationwide is down and that also some specific cities are struggling to fill academy classes. I'm not sure if this all applies to Chicago though since the extent of the corruption and abuse there makes me wonder how many of the cops are actually interested in being good police.

Moskos said...

It's a good question and I don't know the answer. I would say that fewer people wanting to be cops (if that is true, and I suspect it is) is also part of any Ferguson Effect.

There's a lot of research showing that number of cops alone doesn't have much effect on crime. It's what those cops do that is more important. But it's harder to have cops be proactive if you don't have enough cops.

I guess the questions are 1) do fewer people want to be cops? 2) is that because of a negative narrative or other factors (pay, for instance) 3) are cop numbers down? 4) does that impact crime?

One thing to keep in mind is that cops numbers are never at budgeted levels. There's always a shortage of cops. The questions is how many. So to say "numbers are down" doesn't mean they're _more_ down than they used to be. But it might.

EA5 said...

The are "cops number's down" question is pretty difficult to answer given how limited national statistics are but I think there's enough anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to at least say that there is a high probability that the number of officers per capita in many areas of the country is less than it was a decade ago. Like you said though, how that impacts crime is probably complicated and related to the tactical flexibility having enough officers.

Trying to figure out if fewer people want to be cops, and if so why is similarly difficult. My strongest inclination is to look at pay and benefits compared to other jobs that require similar levels of training, but I haven't seen a study on that yet. Another factor would be to look at geographic disparities in police compensation too. It does seem, anecdotally at least, that the cities pay less than their wealthier suburbs, which could lead to the the less qualified officers working in the most difficult areas.

But there might also be something to be said for the negative narrative argument as well. To start to test it, someone would need to identify when the negative narrative started and then see if that corresponds to a drop in recruitment. The biggest issue I have with it though is the idea that the negative narrative reflects the public becoming less well informed rather than them better understanding the actual state of things. Because when you get down to it, the Furguson police department was obviously corrupt, abusive, and racist, and the same can be said about Chicago and a number of other departments. If the negative narrative has led to the public being better informed about their institutions, I have to think thats a good thing overall. If that is impacting police recruiting, then the approach by police should be to at least acknowledge that some departments need to be majorly reformed because being better officers will lead to a better narrative.

Unfortunately, when I read police publications, at least the ones that the public can see, I can't help but get the impression that the police in general don't really think police abuse is even possible. Instead, they blame every spike in crime on negative press while ignoring the abuse and bad acts that drew the negative press in the first place.