Trying to Hide the Rise of Violent Crime

Heather Mac Donald, Wall Street Journal, December 25, 2015

Murders and shootings have spiked in many American cities–and so have efforts to ignore or deny the crime increase. The see-no-evil campaign eagerly embraced a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice called “Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis.” Many progressives and their media allies hailed the report as a refutation of what I and others have dubbed the “Ferguson effect”–cops backing off from proactive policing, demoralized by the ugly vitriol directed at them since a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last year. Americans are being asked to disbelieve both the Ferguson effect and its result: violent crime flourishing in the ensuing vacuum.

In fact, the Brennan Center’s report confirms the Ferguson effect, while also showing how clueless the media are about crime and policing.

The Brennan researchers gathered homicide data from 25 of the nation’s 30 largest cities for the period Jan. 1, 2015, to Oct. 1, 2015. (Not included were San Francisco, Indianapolis, Columbus, El Paso and Nashville.) The researchers then tried to estimate what 2015’s full-year homicide numbers for those 25 cities would be, based on the extent to which homicides were up from January to October this year compared with the similar period in 2014.

The resulting projected increase for homicides in 2015 in those 25 cities is 11%. (By point of comparison, the FiveThirtyEight data blog looked at the 60 largest cities and found a 16% increase in homicides by September 2015.) An 11% one-year increase in any crime category is massive; an equivalent decrease in homicides would be greeted with high-fives by politicians and police chiefs. Yet the media have tried to repackage that 11% homicide increase as trivial.

Several strategies are employed to play down the jump in homicides. The simplest is to hide the actual figure. An Atlantic magazine article in November, “Debunking the Ferguson Effect,” reports: “Based on their data, the Brennan Center projects that homicides will rise slightly overall from 2014 to 2015.” A reader could be forgiven for thinking that “slightly” means an increase of, say, 2%. Nothing in the Atlantic write-up disabuses the reader of that mistaken impression. The website Vox, declaring the crime increase “bunk,” is similarly discreet about the actual homicide rate, leaving it to the reader’s imagination. Crime & Justice News, published by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, coyly admits that “murder is up moderately in some places” without disclosing what that “moderate” increase may be.

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{snip} The Ferguson effect’s existence does not require that every city experience depolicing and a resulting crime increase. Enough cities–in particular, those with significant black populations and where antipolice agitation has been most strident–are experiencing murder increases that cannot be ignored.

Baltimore’s per capita homicide rate, for example, is now the highest in its history, according to the Baltimore Sun: 54 homicides per 100,000 residents, beating its 1993 rate of 48.8 per 100,000 residents. Shootings in Cincinnati, lethal and not, were up 30% by mid-September 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. Homicides in St. Louis were up 60% by the end of August. In Los Angeles, the police department reports that violent crime has increased 20% as of Dec. 5; there were 16% more shooting victims in the city, while arrests were down 9.5%. Shooting incidents in Chicago are up 17% through Dec. 13.

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Later in October FBI Director James Comey said in a speech: “Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase.” He noted “a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year,” and called it “deeply disturbing.” The next month the acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, seconded Mr. Comey’s crime analysis and his hypothesis that the demonization of the police was likely responsible for the violent-crime increase.

President Obama wasn’t happy with his FBI director. In a speech on Oct. 27 to a gathering of international police chiefs in Chicago, he accused Mr. Comey of “cherry-picking data” and ignoring “the facts” on crime in pursuit of a “political agenda.” When the DEA’s Mr. Rosenberg endorsed Mr. Comey’s views about the Ferguson effect, the White House lashed out again: Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Rosenberg had “no evidence” for his assertions.

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