The Corner

Researcher: The ‘Ferguson Effect’ Might Be Real After All

Well now, this is interesting:

For nearly a year, Richard Rosenfeld’s research on crime trends has been used to debunk the existence of a “Ferguson effect”, a suggested link between protests over police killings of black Americans and an increase in crime and murder. Now, the St Louis criminologist says, a deeper analysis of the increase in homicides in 2015 has convinced him that “some version” of the Ferguson effect may be real.

Looking at data from 56 large cities across the country, Rosenfeld found a 17% increase in homicide in 2015. Much of that increase came from only 10 cities, which saw an average 33% increase in homicide.

“These aren’t flukes or blips, this is a real increase,” he said. “It was worrisome. We need to figure out why it happened.”

All 10 cities that saw sudden increases in homicide had large African American populations, he said. While it’s not clear what drove the increases, he said, he believes there is some connection between high-profile protests over police killings of unarmed black men, a further breakdown in black citizens’ trust of the police, and an increase in community violence.

“The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” Rosenfeld said. Now, he said, that’s his “leading hypothesis”.

It seems to me that a person can believe two things at once. First, crime is an extraordinarily complex problem that is influenced by all the things that influence human behavior — culture, health, faith, economics, public policy, and family. Second, good policing can still have a material impact on crime rates. It’s not the be-all, end-all — but it matters. A lot. 

I like the way “Jack Dunphy” puts it over at the home page:

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.

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.

In the meantime, there are those who think it’s all just a blip:

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said the uptick represented essentially a blip in so short a time, and he said it was a reflection of how low the crime rates had dropped.

“What’s basically happening is these cities are becoming victims of their own success,” said Professor Fox. The crime rate “can’t go to zero, and when you hit really low numbers, it can only go up.”

But we weren’t anywhere near zero, and many American cities were still among the most dangerous in the developed world. Now they’re getting more dangerous. It’s past time for Black Lives Matter activists and their sympathizers in the White House and the media to ponder whether they’re playing a role in reversing decades of life-saving gains.


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