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Ferguson Effect Is Real and Hurts Minorities

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Ferguson Effect Is Real and Hurts Minorities

The Wall Street Journal August 2, 2016
Urban PolicyCrime
RaceOther

The Ferguson effect is an issue almost exclusively in black communities.

Edward P. Stringham dismisses what I have called the “Ferguson effect” as a slight statistical anomaly (“Is America Facing a Police Crisis?,” Books, July 30). The Ferguson effect refers to officers backing off proactive policing in minority neighborhoods and the resulting increase in violent crime. Mr. Stringham concludes that the Ferguson effect isn’t real by citing the U.S. crime average from the first half of 2015, which shows that violent crime rose only 1.7% nationally compared with the first half of 2014.

The DoJ concluded that last year’s 17% increase in homicides in the nation’s 56 largest cities, driven by black-on-black killings, was “nearly unprecedented.”

But the Ferguson effect is an issue almost exclusively in black communities. It is there where the Black Lives Matter narrative about racist, homicidal cops has produced virulent hostility in the streets and where officers are reluctant to engage in the proactive enforcement that politicians and the media relentlessly denounce as racist. It is also in those areas that a falloff in proactive policing will be most consequential, since crime is concentrated there. Oddly, Mr. Stringham cites Cleveland, Houston and Philadelphia as refutations of the Ferguson effect, yet homicides in 2015 rose 90% in Cleveland, 25% in Houston and 13% in Philadelphia. A June 2016 report for the Justice Department concluded that last year’s 17% increase in homicides in the nation’s 56 largest cities, driven by black-on- black killings, was “nearly unprecedented.”

It is true, whites haven’t been much affected yet by the Ferguson effect. But if black lives matter, the drop in proactive policing should concern all of us.

Mr. Stringham dismisses the argument that California’s decriminalization and deincarceration policies are affecting crime rates by ignoring 2015 and 2016 data. California’s homicides and all violent crimes rose 10% in 2015; property crime was up 8%. So far in 2016, violent crime is up 16% in Los Angeles, the biggest source of crime in the Golden State.

Mr. Stringham similarly cuts his analysis of New York City off in 2014. But through the first half of 2015, as pedestrian stops in the city plummeted, homicides rose 20%; gun crime was experiencing its first two-year consecutive increase in nearly two decades. The New York Police Department eventually put a lid on the shooting outbreak through a massive deployment of manpower to crime hot spots, but had the supersize New York Police Department not had the resources to deploy, the surge in gun violence would likely have continued.

Mr. Stringham concludes his review by calling the police “unpopular.” He might be surprised to learn of the unequivocal support for the police expressed by many law-abiding residents of high-crime areas and of their fervent desire for more proactive enforcement to restore public order.

This letter to the editor originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

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Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal.

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