On Saturday we introduced readers to the “Ferguson Effect”. The idea is that the recent spate of prosecutions and instances of social unrest that followed a series of events involving perceived police misconduct directed at African Americans have made police officers gun shy — literally.
Here’s what Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “Are Cops Racist?” Heather Mac Donald wrote in a WSJ piece:
This incessant drumbeat against the police has resulted in what St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last November called the “Ferguson effect.” Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the “criminal element is feeling empowered,” Mr. Dotson reported. Arrests in St. Louis city and county by that point had dropped a third since the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Not surprisingly, homicides in the city surged 47% by early November and robberies in the county were up 82%.
Similar “Ferguson effects” are happening across the country as officers scale back on proactive policing under the onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric. Arrests in Baltimore were down 56% in May compared with 2014.
Note this passage: “Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the ‘criminal element is feeling empowered.’” That, according to Mac Donald, is why crime is up across many American cities.
A second set of data casts considerable doubt on that thesis. According to The Washington Post, fatal police shootings have doubled with law enforcement now killing more than two people every day.
[At least] 385 people [have been] shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, according to a Washington Post analysis. That is more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete.
“These shootings are grossly underreported,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement. “We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”
That doesn’t sound too much like a police force that is now “disengaging from discretionary enforcement.” Here are some of WaPo’s findings from an ongoing investigation:
About half the victims were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.
The vast majority of victims — more than 80 percent — were armed with potentially lethal objects, primarily guns, but also knives, machetes, revving vehicles and, in one case, a nail gun.
Forty-nine people had no weapon, while the guns wielded by 13 others turned out to be toys. In all, 16 percent were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.
So America's "disengaged" police are shooting to kill at twice the rate they were in previous years and unsurprisingly, you are far more likely to be a victim if you are black or Hispanic. Further, the majority of cases involving the death of unarmed "suspects" involved minorities.
Here are the visuals...
As for Mac Donald's implicit contention that a looming increase in police prosecutions is likely discouraging officers from doing their jobs, it seems like the jury is out on that as well (no pun intended):
Police are authorized to use deadly force only when they fear for their lives or the lives of others. So far, just three of the 385 fatal shootings have resulted in an officer being charged with a crime — less than 1 percent.
The low rate mirrors the findings of a Post investigation in April that found that of thousands of fatal police shootings over the past decade, only 54 had produced criminal charges. Typically, those cases involved layers of damning evidence challenging the officer’s account. Of the cases resolved, most officers were cleared or acquitted.
At the end of the day, the "Ferguson Effect" may indeed exist, but the above seems to indicate that it operates in exactly the opposite way as its proponents suggest.