White House Disagrees with F.B.I. Chief on Scrutiny as a Cause of Crime

Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, October 26, 2015

The White House said Monday that it did not agree with the assertion last week by the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, that additional scrutiny of law enforcement in the past year may have made police officers less aggressive, leading to a rise in violent crime in some cities.

“The evidence we have seen so far doesn’t support the contention that law enforcement officials are shirking their responsibilities,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in response to a question about Mr. Comey at his daily briefing. “In fact, you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that’s not what’s taking place.”

In a speech at the University of Chicago on Friday, the F.B.I. director said there might be many factors–like cheaper drugs and easier access to guns–that had spawned an increase in crime. But none of them were as convincing to him as the notion that officers were afraid to get out of their patrol cars and deal directly with people on the street because the officers were afraid their interactions would be caught on video.

Mr. Comey acknowledged there was no data to back it up, but he said law enforcement leaders and officers had told him it was affecting policing.

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Many have called it “the Ferguson effect,” referring to the protests that erupted in the summer of 2014 after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. But this explanation for a crime increase has been criticized because it can be seen as suggesting that those who protest police tactics are in part to blame for violent crime. It can also be interpreted as an accusation that police officers are not doing their jobs while crime rises.

Mr. Comey’s remarks angered Justice Department and White House officials, because they saw them as undermining the administration’s criminal justice policies. Holding the police accountable for civil rights violations has been a top priority for the Obama administration in recent years, and several officials privately fumed at the suggestion that criticizing the police had led to violent crime.

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