Loretta Lynch Essentially Says The Ferguson Effect Is Bullshit

from the no-kidding dept

I have to be honest: I have no idea how this whole "Ferguson Effect" became a thing. The general claim by those touting the theory is that, after the backlash over the Michael Brown shooting and several other high-profile deaths at the hands of law enforcement, police are so fearful of the general public that they are no longer taking the risks necessary to do their jobs properly, which is resulting in an uptick in violent crime in several major cities. It's a fascinating theory in that it is so often promoted by those who claim to be champions of the police, even as the theory itself claims that police are abdicating their primary responsibilities. As with any good theory built to draw on division and emotion, it only helps that this theory is essentially made up of a combination of anecdotal evidence and the simplistic reading of statistics without context.

Now, I won't go so far as to say that anecdotal evidence is entirely worthless. Testimony, after all, is a form of evidence. But those touting the theory so vociferously ought to be able to point to some kind of empirical data as opposed to the rumor mill. Unfortunately, as US Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated before the House Judiciary Committee, no such data-based evidence for the Ferguson Effect exists.

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said on Tuesday there was “no data” to support the idea that law enforcement officers are policing less aggressively because of increased scrutiny of their tactics following a series of highly publicized killings mostly of black men. Lynch spoke during a House judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday and discussed the controversial theory, termed the “Ferguson effect”, in the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in the Missouri city last year.

“While certainly there may be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it,” she said during an oversight hearing on the Justice Department held by the committee.
Now, I'm sure nobody would want to suggest that we make policy in a climate completely lacking data for that policy, so this really should table any discussion of the Ferguson Effect pending any actual, you know, data coming to light. What data is available suggests that major cities in America, and indeed America as a whole, have ridden a downward trend in violent crime for at least a decade. In that context, a regression to the mean in violent crime shouldn't be treated as particularly extraordinary. Crime can't always trend downward ad infinitum, after all, and it would be trivially easy to associate any uptick in violence with whatever the news of the day might be. Which is exactly what's happening.

Yet this doesn't work in the other direction. Violence in media, for instance, has been on the rise at the same time as the general downward trend in violent crime, yet few want to argue there's a correlation there. Why? There's no real hard data to suggest that a correlation exists. We ought to treat purveyors of the Ferguson Effect theory the same way. It's not enough to claim that police are too scared to do their jobs properly; they have to show their work.

Filed Under: ferguson effect, james comey, loretta lynch, police, violence, violent crime


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  1. icon
    crade (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:50am

    I should try that I my job.. I *would* do my job, but I'm too afraid the boss might get mad at me if I screw it up horribly.. So, really, it's the boss' fault I can't do my job :)

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