The murder rate is going up in many cities across the country, the New York Times informs us, and the experts are baffled. “Experts cannot agree on what to call a recent rise in homicides,” says the Times, “much less its cause, but new data on Friday that showed a sharp spike in homicide rates in more than 20 cities rekindled debate over whether it was time for alarm.”
One presumes these “experts” are a later generation of those who told us, some 25 years ago, that the police were powerless to bring down the appalling levels of violent crime seen in the country in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Crime is a function of the economy, they instructed, and better policing will not change it. They were at a loss to explain how committed, data-driven police work cut the violent crime numbers by 50 percent or more since those grim years. In 1990, New York City saw a horrifying 2,245 murders; in 2014 the number was 328. Los Angeles hit the high-water mark for murders in 1992, with 1,092; in 2014 there were 260.
Experts were unwilling to credit good police work with these startling decreases. Now they are similarly blind to the fact that a retreat by police is now leading to rising murder rates. The Times cited several possible explanations for the increase in murders, including “the heroin epidemic, a resurgence in gang violence, and economic factors in some cities,” but only FBI director James Comey was willing to name the contributing factor that is obvious to any cop working America’s inner cities: the “Ferguson effect.”
“There’s a perception,” Comey told reporters, “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, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’”
Cops and criminals alike are rational actors, weighing the potential risks and rewards of any contemplated action.
Predictably, the Obama administration pushed back. “The White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said that the increase in homicides in some cities was a concern,” reported the Times, “and that the administration had already taken steps to address it, including a roundup by the Marshals Service last year of some 8,000 fugitives.” And good for the Marshals Service, but even as those fugitives are taken into custody, the president is no less committed to releasing thousands of convicted felons from prison.
It’s all really quite simple. Cops and criminals alike are rational actors, weighing the potential risks and rewards of any contemplated action. When police officers on the street spot someone whose behavior is indicative of possible lawbreaking, they know that initiating a stop carries the risk of an altercation that may not unfold in a manner approved by cowardly superiors, rabble-rousing “community activists,” craven politicians, or perhaps even the president. Against that risk he weighs the benefits of driving on by and finishing his shift on time and in one piece, and without having played the villain in some new YouTube sensation.
#related#And as for that possible lawbreaker, he feels the officer’s eyes on him as the police car slows in the street. But rather than stop, it drives on by, allowing him to continue on his way and complete whatever misdeeds he may have been considering. Multiply that scenario by the hundreds and thousands across the country and you have the conditions we see today in many cities: Crime is up, arrests are down.
The Ferguson effect is real. How many more people will have to die before the “experts” come to realize it?