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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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  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 20 Nov 2015 @ 3:52am

    Pedantically,

    It's not a theory. It is not even a hypothesis because you need a bit of evidence to call it that.
    Let's just call it an idea. Besides, everybody uses the same meaning for that word.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 6:47am

      Re: Pedantically,

      I thought the "Ferguson Effect" was more of a threat issued by certain groups that like the militarization of the police, as in" let us continue to kill indiscriminately with no consequences or we won't do the job you pay us for" only, you know, changing the words to try to make it sound reasonable. Not that it ever could

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 6:52am

        Re: Re: Pedantically,

        It would be great if they all wore the same color shirt, possibly brown. We could then refer to them as "the brown shirts". Wouldn't that be awesome?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:33am

      Re: Pedantically,

      The so-called "Ferguson Effect" is merely a political argument to silence critics of the police. Data is not needed. In fact, data is probably counterproductive; it might undercut the argument.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Groove Tiger (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:47am

      Re: Pedantically,

      Agreed.

      An hypothesis would first need an observation. Like "crime is going up" and "police enforcement is becoming lax", then formulate that maybe scrutiny is causing it. A theory would be a confirmation that the evidence supports the hypothesis enough and be peer reviewed.

      But if there's not data of those things even happening (other than expressions of butthurt policemen) we can't even move into hypothesis.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:15pm

        Re: Re: Pedantically,

        But if there's not data of those things even happening (other than expressions of butthurt policemen) we can't even move into hypothesis.

        I'm sensing a trend. Ted Koppel can write a book based around nothing but talking points from Beltway politicians, and Amazon gives it a glowing review. Is this somebody's crazy agenda at work, or are they just fools? Hard to tell sometimes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 4:03am

    Ted Cruz held a Congressional "hearing" on the Ferguson Effect this week and how Obama Hates Cops. Which is hilarious in a really dark way - with a few superficial exceptions this administration has expanded the powers of the post-9/11 national security state to unprecedented levels. Your tax dollars at work people...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 4:26am

    Even if there were a statistical trend, that says nothing about what is causing the trend, either. It could be, say, oh I don't know, cops with attitudes who decide not to stop crimes, or not as soon as they could, because that'll teach those uppity citizens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:18am

      Re:

      "who decide not to stop crimes, or not as soon as they could"

      It's more like they realize it is not ok to beat the shit outta everything that moves just because they are having roid rage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:23am

      Re:

      If police are suddenly re-thinking their actions and changing behaviour then they must have realized their past actions are wrong. If what they have been doing is ok, there would be no reason for them to change.

      So if there is this Ferguson Effect it only means that cops have realized the era of no accountability is over and are changing their tactics for the better to avoid ending up in jail themselfs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't think they are so likely to change along those reasons, nor are they likely to be held very much more accountable in the near future.

        If there is some back-off effect in actual policing, it isn't due to their fear, it's because they want to be jerks.

        If there were a realization that they were more accountable, should such a thing actually be true, they wouldn't be backing off from "aggressively policing", but merely "policing with aggression". Which is not what the claimed Ferguson Effect is, and doesn't appear to be happening, either.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 4:41am

    "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. "

    Sure people want to suggest that we make policy in a climate completely lacking data all the time. That's how we ended up in Iraq.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:18am

    Techdirt is Experiementing Techmelogical Differences

    Whats up with the Techdirt server? Last couple days I randomly see 522 errors from cloudflare.

    Your servers need some Brawndo, its what they crave.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:52am

    My question is how many police officer's commitment to protecting communities and desire to uphold law can be so easily undermined by a camera?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:39pm

      Re:

      My question is how many police officer's commitment to protecting communities and desire to uphold law can be so easily undermined by a camera?

      ... which their politician employers are bending over backward to ensure none of that footage ever sees the light of day. Why would the cops be threatened by something nobody's ever going to get to see? I smell paranoia, and police unions.

      Just do your damned job, and re-read the constitution, ffs. You know, that thing you swore to defend?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:54am

    Some 60K soldiers were killed, 500K wounded in the Vietnam theater during that "little war." 5M were present. So there was a 1.2% of dying, a 10% chance of being wounded. Many of these soldiers were draftees, or enlisted to avoid the draft. LBJ ended grad school deferments destroying life ambitions. Marriages were destroyed by long separations. For pay that was ridiculous.

    Today's cops have talked themselves into a belief that there is a war against them when the death rate of cops is about 100 per year -- less than 1/5 that of taxicab drivers.

    They are a bunch of self serving wusses who bully the defenseless, empire building and power seeking wretches.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 6:40am

    Ferguson effect or not I gotta say it's not exactly a good time to consider a career in law enforcement right now lets you incur the wrath of the court of Twitter which has no mercy.

    Or at least that's my reason for staying out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • 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 :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:54am

    No correlation whatsoever

    ...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...


    I've seen stories that teen (and/or unwanted) pregnancies are down. Does that mean sex in the media has gone up?

    See: I can correlate with the best of them. Can I correlate correctly? That's another story :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Raven, 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:29am

    Who Watches the Watchers

    Let's face it, there are dirty cops. It's human nature - there's dirty people in EVERY profession. The problem is the "fraternity" of police and the police unions make it difficult - if not outright impossible - to eliminate the bad apples.

    I know some great cops - heck, my uncle's a deputy sheriff and my grandfather was a sheriff. I also have a friend who had to quite a local police force after he wouldn't do drugs - since all the other officers on the force (about a dozen) did drugs and that was his "initiation".

    The "don't rat" concept is fine for criminals, but it is NOT fine for people who should be upholding the law. There is no place for criminals, bigots or bullies in the police force and as long as they REFUSE to police themselves, then they can expect that the sins of few will reflect on ALL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:39am

    It's not enough to claim that police are too scared to do their jobs properly



    It is enough for me. Fire them all. I'm sure the americans can find braver souls to accept a gun and responsibility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 11:24am

      Re: not that easy

      There is a shortage of cops of cops these days.

      Which might explain the hiring of the current crop.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:51pm

      Re:

      Fire them all.

      The last stat I read was about 10% of them were dirty. If the 90% would do something about the 10%, we wouldn't be talking about this.

      Every prospective cop hire should be forced to watch Serpico. This isn't a new problem, and body-cams have nothing to do with it.

      Okay, fire all of NYPD maybe. They've always lionized dirty.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    seedeevee (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:46am

    Ferguson effect or just lazy

    I know that here in San Jose the cops are just lazy and will tell you to your face they are not going to do shit until the city council gives them more money.

    The only crimes they will "investigate" will be ones that have bodily injuries. NO blood no help. They, in all intents and purposes, are encouraging criminals so that they can get their %90 pensions and overstaffed department back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pronounce (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 2:03pm

    One Possible Data Point

    I didn't know that this was called the Ferguson Effect, but let me pass along what the school resource officer told my wife when she asked him about the uptick in gang related shootings that our nurse son is seeing in the trauma unit at the local hospital.

    The officer said that in the past police administration allowed them to do random searches of known gang members, and the shooters knew this, and so wouldn't carry guns on them. Now police administration is telling officers to not even touch a gang member, and the gang members know this and all of them are carrying guns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:41pm

    Oh boy, Whatever's not going to like this at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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