Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ve heard a lot about the “Ferguson Effect”. Officer Darren Wilson justifiably used deadly force to defend himself against a violent subject who was attempting to disarm him. Born out of that incident in Ferguson, MO was the famous, but completely discredited narrative of “hands up; don’t shoot”. That false narrative was picked up by social media, traditional media, and politicians nationwide as “proof” that America’s law enforcement officers were inherently racist and something needed to be done. Scrutiny of law enforcement encounters across the country has dramatically increased and (as many law enforcement experts and trainers predicted) law enforcement contacts decreased. This decrease in police contacts is what is commonly referred to as the “Ferguson Effect”.
The question for many is, does the so called “Ferguson Effect” really exist? It depends on who you ask. According to the opinion of former Attorney General Eric Holder in October 2015, “any evidence to support the “Ferguson Effect” is merely “anecdotal”. The same opinion was expressed by President Obama that same month. Those are the opinions of politicians, but what does the evidence tell us? Since that time at least four empirical studies have shown that the “Ferguson Effect” (or de-policing if you prefer) is real. Whether it is correlation or causation may be debatable, but there is little doubt police officers nationwide are feeling the effects. In a new Pew Research Center national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform (see full article here), the majority of police officers (72%) say that recent high-profile fatal encounters between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs riskier, aggravated tensions between police and blacks, and left many officers reluctant to fully carry out some of their duties.
If we are to believe the evidence, the real question becomes, what can we do? We know that de-policing has a tremendously negative effect on communities, especially inner city communities such as Chicago, Baltimore, Washington DC and many others. How do we better engage our communities, while ensuring we don’t sacrifice officer safety? Over the next few blogs, I’d like to share some practical ideas on what we can do to engage our communities differently. As the old saying goes “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting”. What can we do different? How are we going to transform the police/community relationship for the future? Let’s identify solutions rather than problems!