The Corner

Completing the Chicago Gun Violence Puzzle — the ‘Ferguson Effect’ Rides Again

Two weeks ago I wrote about the horrifying surge in Chicago gun violence — with murders up 84 percent over the same period last year. At the same time, police reported fewer gun seizures and far fewer stop-and-frisks. All this is consistent with the so-called “Ferguson effect,” where changes in police tactics in response to community pressure arguably lead to short-term crime spikes. 

Yesterday, Rob Arthur in FiveThirtyEight added additional data to the analysis. It turns out that not only did gun violence increase after the release of the notorious Laquan McDonald video, but the number of arrests plunged as well. Here’s Arthur:

The severe spike in gun violence Chicago is experiencing can be dated to the release of the video in the Laquan McDonald case, a FiveThirtyEight analysis of crime data shows. The same analysis shows that the city has seen a significant drop in arrests made for homicides and nonfatal shootings, as well as other crimes, since the video’s release on Nov. 24. This suggests a decline in law enforcement activity that may be contributing to the rise in gun crime.

He continues:

The spike in gun violence in Chicago since the end of November, though, is too sharp to be explained by seasonal fluctuations or chance. There have been 175 homicides and approximately 675 nonfatal shooting incidents1 from Dec. 1 through March 31, according to our analysis of city data.2 The 69 percent drop in the nonfatal shooting arrest rate and the 48 percent drop in the homicide arrest rate since the video’s release are also too large to be explained by seasonal variation or chance. Even though crime statistics can see a good amount of variation from year to year and from month to month, this spike in gun violence is statistically significant, and the falling arrest numbers suggest real changes in the process of policing in Chicago since the video’s release.

Some police critics wonder if officers are engaged in an intentional slowdown, maliciously inflicting harm on the communities they patrol. Arthur is skeptical:

In Chicago, there is little concrete evidence of an organized police slowdown. But in both public statements and private conversations, former and current Chicago police officers, crime analysts and journalists have described a climate of low morale and hesitation among officers that has led to fewer arrests. The president of the police union told NPR last month that “no one wants to be on that next video,” and Guglielmi echoed that language: “No police officer wants to be the next viral video,” he said. (The Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.)

Jamie Kalven, a journalist whose reporting brought attention to the McDonald case and who knows several Chicago police officers, is skeptical that there is any mass protest among police, even if some individual officers may be deliberately slowing down. Instead, Kalven thinks Chicago police are bewildered by a more hostile public. He pointed to a slogan that has become increasingly popular among police, shared on police blogs and even sold on T-shirts: “Stay Fetal,” a reference to comments from the mayor, who said officers had gone “fetal” to avoid trouble. There is “a genuine lack of clarity about the job description, the parameters of the job, and who will have their back in ambiguous situations,” Kalven said.

It is worth repeating over and over again that we cannot take for granted our nation’s long decline in crime rate, and we cannot reject the police tactics that contributed to this decline without experiencing real risk. Police shouldn’t be immune from scrutiny and critique, but the assault from Black Lives Matter and its allies is often both unthinking and malicious. Chicago is joining the ranks of cities — like Milwaukee, Saint Louis, and Baltimore — where the number of black lives lost to increased crime far outstrips the number saved through the kind of timid, “fetal” policing the radicals demand.

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