Don’t Believe the “Ferguson Effect”

The Wall Street Journal recently had an op-ed that blamed a rising number of violent crimes so far this year in several large cities on a “Ferguson effect.” The idea here is that police have become less proactive (in terms of stopping and frisking people who look suspicious to them) in the wake of attention given to police shootings of young African American men in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities during the past year or more.

This claim of blame is without merit. Crime rates fluctuate, and it is far too soon to know whether violent crime is really rising; a few cities’ worth of data certainly is not enough to indicate a trend. Even if crime were rising, many factors can affect crime rates, and rigorous research is needed to determine these factors, which often remain elusive even after this sort of research has been done. The WSJ op-ed claim also is made without comparable data. Have all the cities discussed in the WSJ op-ed changed their policing? What about other cities? We do not know enough about any changes in policing in enough cities to reach any conclusions about the so-called Ferguson effect.

So please don’t believe the “Ferguson effect.” Jumping to conclusions about crime rate trends and reasons for them does no one any good, least of all the victims of crime.

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