That's the headline of an excellent article by Heather MacDonald in the Wall Street Journal. Here's an excerpt.
Murders and shootings have spiked in many American cities—and so have efforts to ignore or deny the crime increase. The see-no-evil campaign eagerly embraced a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice called “Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis.” Many progressives and their media allies hailed the report as a refutation of what I and others have dubbed the “Ferguson effect”— cops backing off from proactive policing, demoralized by the ugly vitriol directed at them since a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., last year. Americans are being asked to disbelieve both the Ferguson effect and its result: violent crime flourishing in the ensuing vacuum.
. . .
Critics of the Ferguson-effect analysis ignore or deny the animosity that the police now face in urban areas, brushing off rampant resistance to lawful police authority as mere “peaceful protest” ... Now cops making arrests in urban areas are routinely surrounded by bystanders, who swear at them and interfere with the arrests. The media and many politicians decry as racist law-enforcement tools like pedestrian stops and broken-windows policing—the proven method of stopping major crimes by going after minor ones. Under such conditions, it isn’t just understandable that the police would back off; it is also presumably what the activists and the media critics would want. The puzzle is why these progressives are so intent on denying that such depolicing is occurring and that it is affecting public safety.
The answer lies in the enduring commitment of antipolice progressives to the “root causes” theory of crime. The Brennan Center study closes by hypothesizing that lower incomes, higher poverty rates, falling populations and high unemployment are driving the rising murder rates in Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans and St. Louis. But those aspects of urban life haven’t dramatically worsened over the past year and a half. What has changed is the climate for law enforcement.
. . .
To acknowledge the Ferguson effect would be tantamount to acknowledging that police matter, especially when the family and other informal social controls break down. Trillions of dollars of welfare spending over the past 50 years failed to protect inner-city residents from rising predation. Only the policing revolution of the 1990s succeeded in curbing urban violence, saving thousands of lives. As the data show, that achievement is now in jeopardy.
There's more at the link. For those who don't have a subscription to the WSJ, do a Google search on the article's title to get behind the paywall. Also, here's another discussion of the report in the American Thinker.
Let me say at once that I agree with much of Ms. MacDonald's analysis: but I think she's left out two major elements of the equation that together shed additional light on the situation.
First, consider that the Obama administration has consistently taken an anti-police position when it comes to law and order and their enforcement. From the infamous Prof. Gates arrest controversy to his most recent dismissal of the so-called 'Ferguson effect', the President has set an anti-law-enforcement tone. Coming from a former 'community organizer', this is perhaps not surprising . . . but it's adding to the problem. When protesters on the street believe that they have the backing of the highest office in the land, and can therefore disregard, disrespect and disobey law enforcement officers at will, we have the makings of a very dangerous situation indeed.
Second, distrust of law enforcement is widespread, and for good reason. Look at how many police officers have overstepped the bounds of what is properly considered 'law enforcement' and have become oppressors of the community, rather than its protectors. The 'Ferguson effect' didn't arise in a vacuum, but in a situation where police were seen as tools of an oppressive, discriminatory local government rather than impartial enforcers of the law. Similarly, all too many cases of police brutality, overreach and authoritarian disregard for Constitutional and legal principles have made many people (including myself) profoundly suspicious of law enforcement in general. Of course there are 'good cops' out there: I number several among my personal friends, and I'd trust any of them with my life or that of my wife. However, there appear to be more and more 'bad apples' in law enforcement that are rendering the entire profession suspect. The list of recent issues is almost endless. To name only a very few:
- Albuquerque, NM police are sued for millions following an illegal and medically invasive drug search;
- Homan Square in Chicago is the scene of countless police violations of rights and legal procedures, including widespread torture;
- Maryland police allegedly target out-of-state motorists for excessive and seemingly illegal searches on the basis of whether or not they hold concealed weapons permits in their home states;
- The widespread and sometimes out-of-control militarization of US law enforcement, exemplified by the proliferation and over-use of SWAT teams, which can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences such as the tragedy of Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh (and the unbelievably crass response of the Habersham County Sheriff);
- The allegedly excessive use of lethal force by police officers and agencies, for which very few officers are ever charged and even fewer convicted, despite statistical analysis that indicates prima facie that something's very far wrong;
- The widespread use of law enforcement agencies and personnel to raise funds, issuing tickets for violations and imposing charges not as a safety measure, but to raise revenue for their agencies and the municipalities and counties employing them;
- The use of Federal agencies (including their law enforcement arms) to enforce unpopular and sometimes allegedly illegal intrusions on the rights of citizens, exemplified by incidents such as the Bundy standoff, the alleged Federal 'land grab' along the Red River in Texas, the use of the IRS to intimidate political opponents of the present Administration, and so on.
I could go on for page after page after page detailing every such incident, but what's the point? The reality is that American law enforcement officers and agencies in general have to an ever-increasing extent forfeited the trust of the people they're supposed to 'protect and serve'. They are no longer seen as impartial and fair in their approach. I find this very sad indeed, given that I've served in two law enforcement agencies; but even I now automatically trust only those officers whom I've come to know personally. Those with whom they associate, and their agencies, also get a pass from me on the basis that I don't think honorable, upright peace officers would be part of an organization where they could not be true to themselves. Others, however . . . I'll adopt a 'wait-and-see' approach, and exercise due caution.
When you add those two elements to the 'Ferguson effect', you get a picture of a law enforcement function that's in widespread disarray nationwide, across many agencies, local, state and federal. I don't pretend to know what the answer might be . . . but the problems are far more widespread and far deeper rooted than mere public distrust of police. The rot has set in very deep, and to excise it might take more will and determination on the part of police and political leaders and administrators than their conduct to date has demonstrated.