Does a ‘Ferguson Effect’ Correlate to 2016 Crime Increases?

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Non-homicide crimes are up in many places. Doug Wylie of PoliceOne considers if a pull-back on proactive policing is becoming a long-term, related trend.

In his end-of-year wrap up, Doug Wylie, PoliceOne editor-at-large, summarizes several aspects affecting 2016 crime and policing and discusses their correlations:

  • A rise in violence against police indicated by a 72 percent increase in gunfire deaths of police officers this year.
  • Various 2016 crime rate and arrest statistics that are becoming available after year’s end.
  • Reports by police of deadly hesitation – or the ‘Ferguson Effect’ as it is known in the law enforcement community – and a general, conscious pull-back on proactive policing.

Wylie writes:

In most places in America, crime remained about the same as last year (and years past) but in some cities, violent crime increased significantly. Even in places where violent crime dropped, property crime and quality-of-life crime multiplied.

Calling it “a tremendous achievement,” New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill recently predicted that the total number of shootings in the Big Apple will be fewer than 1,000 for the first time in more than two decades.

While at the time of this writing the murder rates are down in New York City and up only slightly in New Orleans, other American cities have exploded with violence.

Nearly a dozen cities — including Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, and San Antonio — “have had sizable increases” in murders in 2016, according to a report in Time magazine.

While final data are not yet available for the entire year — that information will likely become available in early 2017 — according to a mid-year report released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association , the number of murders in 29 of the nation’s largest cities increased during the first six months of 2016.

The starkest example is in Chicago, where more than 4,250 people were shot in 2016 — a 50 percent increase over last year. An estimated 742 of those people shot in the Windy City died, according to the Chicago Tribune.

It is believed — although given the lack of final data, not yet proven — that most of the shootings in the country are gang-related incidents. As former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said on “The O’Reilly Factor” on December 12 of this year, “The violence is about the rival gang. They shoot each other because they’re on the other team. They shoot each other because ‘my father shot your father.’”

We also must remember that murder rates and gun violence are not the only measure of criminal activity to be considered.

While it is true that the murder rate is down in Los Angeles, according to a mid-year report released in July, the “department still faces a continuing rise in assaults, robberies and property offenses, marking the city’s second straight midyear increase in overall crime,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Beginning of a Long-Term Trend?

It’s important to note that 2016 crime does not necessarily represent a single, stand-alone pivot point toward a rise in violent crime in America. In reality, this year is probably the continuation of a trend that started last year — following the “Ferguson Effect” which began in late 2014.

When the FBI released its annual report on crime statistics for 2015, it noted that there was a 3.9 percent increase in violent crime over 2014.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight reported that “preliminary evidence suggests that the number of murders is up about 10.5 percent so far in 2016 in big cities for which data is available.”

In 2015, the number of murders went up 14.7 percent in that same group of cities, according to FiveThirtyEight.

No statistics are kept on whether police have pulled back on proactive policing, but there appears to be anecdotal evidence that such a drawdown is taking place. On the PoliceOne homepage we recently posed the question, “Have you pulled back on proactive police work?” Two thirds of the nearly 1,000 respondents said they are — 66 percent said yes, while 34 percent said no.

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