Fundamentally Transformed: City after City Seeing Rising Crime Rates

Gentle reader, you may be forgiven if you’ve come to think I write about nothing but the “Ferguson effect,” i.e., the current tendency among many police officers to refrain from proactive police work or else risk a life-altering confrontation while trying to make an arrest.  My previous four columns (find them here) have covered this topic, and now here I am again, banging on that same tired drum.  I don’t do this for lack of desire to write about other things.  Rather, this phenomenon is simply the most important development in police work since the advent of data-driven police work some 25 years ago.  In 1990 there were 2,245 murders in New York City; in 2014 there were 328.  In Los Angeles, there were 1,092 murders in 1992; in 2014 there were 260.

More than any other factor, it was data-driven police work, carried out by well-trained, well-informed, and well-motivated cops that brought these grim numbers to their currently more tolerable levels.  But now it’s all being undone, and in city after city the trend is once again pointing toward higher crime.  America’s police officers are today just as well trained and informed, but they are less motivated to do the proactive police work that keeps criminals in check.

And, as I’ve written before, over and over again, the Ferguson effect and the Black Lives Matter movement that gave rise to it are based on the poisonous lie that the greatest peril to young black men in America is that posed by racist, trigger-happy cops.  Put aside for the moment the fact that for every black man killed by a police officer there are dozens killed by other black men.  There is now evidence that police officers are less likely to shoot a black suspect than a white one.

Call it a corollary to the Ferguson effect.  The Washington Post reported last month on research conducted at Washington State University that attempted to measure racial bias in a group of police officers and how that bias affected the officers’ actions in simulated encounters.  The researchers used training simulators in which officers carry weapons that fire an infrared beam onto a screen, on which are projected various scenarios in which an officer may find himself.  The officers, 80 volunteers from the Spokane Police Department, were each put through six scenarios in which they encountered armed and unarmed suspects, some of them black, others white.  More than 1,500 scenarios were recorded and measured.

The tests were conducted between August 2012 and November 2013, well before the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that launched the Black Lives Matter movement and gave the Ferguson effect its name.  The officers were nearly all male and all white, reflecting the makeup of the Spokane police force.  In addition to the scenarios, the officers were given a series of tests, including the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which seeks to detect racial bias by linking pictures of black and white faces with pictures of weapons.  “Perhaps stunningly,” reports the Post, “96 percent of the nearly all white officers demonstrated implicit racial bias, with 78 percent strongly or moderately associating blacks with weapons, and zero percent associating whites with weapons. So that’s the baseline test group for the study.”  (Italics in the original.)