Posted on September 16, 2015

In Search of a Ferguson Effect

Robert VerBruggen, Real Clear Policy, September 14, 2015

Crime is rising. Data from FiveThirtyEight indicate that between 2015 thus far and the same period last year, homicides rose 16 percent in the nation’s 60 largest cities (though data for one city, Anaheim, is missing). This may be a smaller increase than you’d think, but it’s nothing to scoff at.

The question is why. Advocates of a “Ferguson Effect” say that intense criticism of police over the past year has emboldened criminals and cowed officers. {snip}

I came up with a simple test. The protests are heavily focused on race, so if there’s a Ferguson Effect, cities with high black populations should have bigger increases in homicide–the protests presumably embolden white criminals less, and intimidate officers less when they’re dealing with white suspects. Here’s what I got when I plotted FiveThirtyEight’s numbers against 2010 Census data on race:


It’s striking that, with one exception (Memphis), every single city where homicide declined had a black population under 31 percent. (Jacksonville had a tiny decrease and is 30.7 percent black.) Inversely, every single city except Memphis with a black population above that mark saw homicide increase.