Ferguson effect

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The Ferguson effect is the idea that increased distrust of police following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has led to an increased crime rate (or sometimes increased murder rate) in major U.S. cities. The mechanism usually suggested is that police have less vigorous enforcement in situations that might lead to backlash, though other mechanisms are suggested. The term was coined by Doyle Sam Dotson III, the chief of the St. Louis police, to account for an increased murder rate in some U.S. cities following the Ferguson unrest.[1]


Ferguson, Missouri, August 17, 2014

The term was coined by Dotson in a 2014 column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[2] Dotson said in the column that, after the protests in Ferguson caused by the shooting of Michael Brown that August, his officers had been hesitant to enforce the law due to fears of being charged, and that "the criminal element is feeling empowered" as a result.[1]

The term became popular after Heather Mac Donald used it in a May 29, 2015, Wall Street Journal op-ed.[3] The op-ed stated that the rise in crime rates in some U.S. cities was due to "agitation" against police forces.[4] She further stated that "Unless the demonization of law enforcement ends, the liberating gains in urban safety will be lost," and quoted a number of police officers as saying police morale was at an all-time low.[1] In 2015, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, suggested that nationwide backlash against police brutality had led to officers disengaging, which, in turn, had led to violent crime increasing.[5]

In May 2016, FBI Director James Comey used the term "viral video effect" when commenting on significant increases in homicide rates in many large U.S. cities in the first half of the year. Comey specifically singled out the cities of Chicago (which murders were up 54 percent from 2015 and shootings were up by 70 percent) and Las Vegas.[6][7][8] The term was also used by Chuck Rosenberg, director of the DEA.[4]

In October 2016, the Ferguson effect was cited in a case in which a Chicago police officer was beaten for several minutes by a suspect but chose not to draw her service weapon, worried of the media attention that would come if she were to shoot the suspect.[9]


Law enforcement and politicians

William Bratton, the then-New York City Police Commissioner, said in 2015 that he had seen no evidence of a "Ferguson effect" in his city.[10] U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified before Congress on November 17, 2015, that there was "no data" to support claims that the Ferguson effect existed.[11] According to Slate, Ronald L. Davis, a former police chief and the executive director of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, testified at the same hearing that the notion that police would fail to do their jobs because they were scared was "an insult to the profession".[12] President Obama also said in a 2015 speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police that although gun violence and homicides had spiked in some U.S. cities, "so far at least across the nation, the data shows that we are still enjoying historically low rates of violent crime", and "What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas."[13] In December 2015, Edward A. Flynn, police chief of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said that although police were unnerved due to anti-police protests, this was not solely responsible for the increase in violent crime observed in his city recently, because rates of such crimes there started increasing before Michael Brown was shot.[14]


Some researchers have said that there is little evidence of a crime wave in the United States; for example, law professor Franklin Zimring told NBC News in 2015 that "I don't think there's a trend" in recent nationwide crime rates.[15] Jeffery Ulmer, associate head of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Penn State University, has said that although the Ferguson effect is possible, he does not consider it likely nationwide.[1]

Reports and studies

A June 2015 report on crime in St. Louis by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, published by the Sentencing Project, found no "credible and comprehensive evidence" that there was any "Ferguson effect" on crime in St. Louis.[16] A June 2016 University of Missouri study by Rosenfeld, published by the National Institute of Justice found that there was an "unprecedented" 16.8% increase in homicides in 56 large cities over the course of 2015,[17][18] and examined the Ferguson effect as one of three plausible explanations recommended for further research. Rosenfeld stated that "the only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect" and that it is his "leading hypothesis".[19]

A November 2015 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that although killings and overall lawlessness were increasing in some U.S. cities, nationwide crime rates were still decreasing, and predicted that crime rates would decrease by 1.5% from 2014 to 2015.[15]

A 2015 study looked at a possible "Ferguson effect" not on crime, but on police willingness to partner with communities. The study found that officers who felt their agency was fair or were confident of their own authority were more likely to partner with their communities, "regardless of the effects of negative publicity".[20]

A February 2016 University of Colorado Boulder study looked at crime statistics from 81 U.S. cities and found no evidence of a Ferguson effect with respect to overall, violent, or property crime, but did identify an increase in robbery rates after the shooting of Michael Brown (while these rates had been decreasing before this shooting).[21] A March 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University researchers Stephen L. Morgan and Joel Pally found that after Brown was shot, rates of many types of crimes in Baltimore decreased relative to what had been expected, while others (such as robbery and burglary) remained unchanged.[22][23]

A 2016 study by sociologists Matthew Desmond and Andrew V. Papachristos concluded that black people were afraid to call 911 after a heavily publicized violent beating of an unarmed black man by white police officers. After the police beating of Frank Jude in October 2004 was reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there was a 17% drop in 911 calls, and a 32% increase in homicides. "Our research suggests that this happened not because the police 'got fetal' but because many members of the black community stopped calling 911, their trust in the justice system in tatters," they wrote.[24][25]

Another 2016 study, led by Edward Maguire of Arizona State University, found no evidence of a "Ferguson effect" with regard to the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in the United States between August 2014 and March 2016.[26]

A December 2016 study found that police deputies who thought their supervisors were more fair were less likely to perceive danger, be unmotivated, or think that civilian attitudes toward the police have become more cynical since the shooting of Michael Brown.[27]

Additionally, a 2017 study led by Bradley Campbell of the University of Louisville, showed no significant increase or decrease in the number of citizens fatally shot by police after the events in Ferguson, MO in August 2014. The study analyzed data from May 2013 to December 2015.[28] Another 2017 study showed that after the shooting of Michael Brown, police traffic stops declined in Missouri, as did hit rates from police searches. The same study found no relationship between changes in police activity and crime rates.[29]

Another 2017 study surveyed officers in a Southeastern United States police department and found that they believed that negative publicity of police negatively affects civilians enough to increase crime rates. The same study found that negative publicity increases officers' perceptions of a police legitimacy crisis and fear of being falsely accused of misconduct.[30]

In 2018, USA Today reported that there had been a sharp increase in Baltimore homicides after the local death of Freddie Grey in April 2015, showing 527 occurring in the three years prior, versus 859 in the three years following; and this was accompanied by police taking an apparent blind eye to ordinary street crime, with a nearly 50% reduction in police reports of spotting potential violations themselves.[31] An opinion piece in the Washington Post instead suggested here the possibility of an "alternative Ferguson effect," with more mistrustful residents less likely to make use of police services.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d Gold, Ashley (5 June 2015). "Why has the murder rate in some US cities suddenly spiked?". BBC News. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  2. ^ Byers, Christine (15 November 2014). "Crime up after Ferguson and more police needed, top St. Louis area chiefs say". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  3. ^ Mac Donald, Heather (29 May 2015). "The New Nationwide Crime Wave". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b Ford, Matt (21 November 2015). "Debunking the Ferguson Effect". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  5. ^ Johnson, Kevin (28 December 2015). "Providence one of many U.S. police forces feeling Ferguson aftershocks". USA Today. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  6. ^ "F.B.I. Director Says 'Viral Video Effect' Blunts Police Work". The New York Times. 12 May 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  7. ^ "Table 4 – Illinois through Missouri". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  8. ^ Sanburn, Josh. "Murders in Major U.S. Cities Are Up Again This Year". Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  9. ^ Hawkins, Derek (October 7, 2016). "'Ferguson effect'? Savagely beaten cop didn't draw gun for fear of media uproar, says Chicago police chief". Washington Post. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  10. ^ Perez, Evan (26 October 2015). "FBI chief tries to deal with the 'Ferguson effect'". CNN. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  11. ^ Horwitz, Sari (17 November 2015). "Attorney General: There is 'no data' backing existence of a 'Ferguson effect'". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  12. ^ Neyfakh, Leon (20 November 2015). "There Is No Ferguson Effect". Slate. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  13. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (27 October 2015). "Obama says there's no evidence of a 'Ferguson effect'". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  14. ^ Fears, Darryl (5 December 2015). "In Milwaukee, evidence is weak for the 'Ferguson effect'". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  15. ^ a b Schuppe, Jon (27 November 2015). "Researchers Cast Doubt on 'Ferguson Effect' as Cause of Crime Spikes". NBC News. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  16. ^ Rosenfeld, Richard (June 2015). "Was There a "Ferguson Effect" on Crime in St. Louis?" (PDF). Sentencing Project. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  17. ^ "Murder Rate Spike Could Be 'Ferguson Effect,' DOJ Study Says". NPR. 15 June 2016.
  18. ^ Rosenfeld, Richard (2016), Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions (PDF), U.S. Department of Justice, retrieved 15 Jun 2016
  19. ^ "Is the 'Ferguson effect' real? Researcher has second thoughts". The Guardian. 13 May 2016.
  20. ^ Wolfe, Scott E.; Nix, Justin (2015). "The Alleged 'Ferguson Effect' and Police Willingness to Engage in Community Partnership". Law and Human Behavior. 40 (1): 1–10. doi:10.1037/lhb0000164.
  21. ^ Pyrooz, David C.; Decker, Scott H.; Wolfe, Scott E.; Shjarback, John A. (September 2016). "Was there a Ferguson Effect on crime rates in large U.S. cities?". Journal of Criminal Justice. 46: 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2016.01.001. Lay summaryUniversity of Colorado Boulder News Center (4 February 2016).
  22. ^ Morgan, Stephen L. (March 2016). "Ferguson, Gray, and Davis" (PDF). Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  23. ^ Mock, Brentin (15 March 2016). "Study: There Has Been No 'Ferguson Effect' in Baltimore". Citylab. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  24. ^ Why Don’t You Just Call the Cops? By Matthew Desmond and Andrew V. Papachristos. New York Times, Sep. 30, 2016
  25. ^ Desmond, Matthew; Papachristos, Andrew V.; Kirk, David S. (2016). "Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community". American Sociological Review. 81 (5): 857–876. doi:10.1177/0003122416663494.
  26. ^ Maguire, Edward R.; Nix, Justin; Campbell, Bradley A. (2016). "A War on Cops? The Effects of Ferguson on the Number of U.S. Police Officers Murdered in the Line of Duty". Justice Quarterly. 34 (5): 739–758. doi:10.1080/07418825.2016.1236205.
  27. ^ Nix, Justin; Wolfe, Scott E. (December 2016). "Sensitivity to the Ferguson Effect: The role of managerial organizational justice". Journal of Criminal Justice. 47: 12–20. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2016.06.002.
  28. ^ Campbell, Bradley A.; Nix, Justin; Maguire, Edward R. (2018). "Is the Number of Citizens Fatally Shot by Police Increasing in the Post-Ferguson Era?". Crime & Delinquency. 64 (3): 398–420. doi:10.1177/0011128716686343.
  29. ^ Shjarback, John A.; Pyrooz, David C.; Wolfe, Scott E.; Decker, Scott H. (May 2017). "De-policing and crime in the wake of Ferguson: Racialized changes in the quantity and quality of policing among Missouri police departments". Journal of Criminal Justice. 50: 42–52. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2017.04.003.
  30. ^ Nix, Justin; Pickett, Justin T. (2017). "Third-person perceptions, hostile media effects, and policing: Developing a theoretical framework for assessing the Ferguson effect". Journal of Criminal Justice. 51: 24–33. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2017.05.016.
  31. ^ Heath, Brad (12 July 2018). "Baltimore police stopped noticing crime after Freddie Gray's death. A wave of killings followed". Baltimore.
  32. ^ Balko, Radley (19 July 2018). "Was there a 'Ferguson effect' in Baltimore? Don't be so sure".
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