Heather Mac Donald, Wall Street Journal, May 24, 2016
FBI Director James Comey has again drawn the wrath of the White House for calling attention to the rising violence in urban areas. Homicides increased 9 percent in the largest 63 cities in the first quarter of 2016; nonfatal shootings were up 21 percent, according to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey.
Those increases come on top of last year’s 17 percent rise in homicides in the 56 biggest US cities, with 10 heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60 percent.
“There’s a perception,” Comey said during a May 11 news conference, “that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime–the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”
The reaction to Comey’s heresy was swift. White House spokesman Josh Earnest immediately accused the FBI director of being “irresponsible and ultimately counterproductive” by drawing “conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.”
But the evidence is not looking good for those who dismiss the so-called “Ferguson effect,” from the president on down. A study published this year in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that homicides in the 12 months after the Michael Brown shooting rose significantly in cities with large black populations and already high rates of violence, which is precisely what the Ferguson effect would predict.
A study of gun violence in Baltimore by crime analyst Jeff Asher showed an inverse correlation with proactive drug arrests: When Baltimore cops virtually stopped making drug arrests last year after the rioting that followed the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, shootings soared. In Chicago, where pedestrian stops have fallen nearly 90 percent, homicides this year are up 60 percent compared with the same period last year.
Compared with the first four-and-a-half months of 2014, homicides in Chicago are up 95 percent, according to the police department. Even the liberal website Vox has grudgingly concluded that “the Ferguson effect theory is narrowly correct, at least in some cities.”
Ultimately, denial of the Ferguson effect is driven by a refusal to acknowledge the connection between proactive policing and public safety. Until the urban family is reconstituted, law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods will need the police to maintain public order in the midst of profound social breakdown.