Monday, June 15, 2015

The Ferguson Effect: making cops think like insurance companies

At the beginning of the month, Heather McDonald wrote an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal making the case for what she called the Ferguson Effect: the spike in violence due to cops' reluctance to engage in proactive police work in the face of Ferguson-style anti-cop riots. Not surprisingly, her article created a bunch of controversy.

Today she responds to many of her critics, and accuses them of attempting to explain away the significant spikes in violent crime seen in many different cities since Ferguson.
A sharply critical response from some quarters greeted the article. It belonged to a “long line of conservative efforts to undermine racial equality,” wrote Columbia University law professor Bernard Harcourt in the Guardian, decrying the article as “crime fiction” intended to undermine “the country’s newest civil rights movement.” Charles Blow of the New York Times called me a “fear-mongering iron fist-er” who was using “racial pathology arguments” and “smearing the blood running in the street onto the hands holding the placards.” The article was part of a “growing backlash against police reform,” an attempt to “shame people who dare to speak up about police abuse,” wrote journalist Radley Balko in the Washington Post. ...

These criticisms speak volumes about how activists, members of the media and many academics understand crime and policing.

It is true that violent crime has not skyrocketed in every American city—but my article didn’t say it had. It has gone up in enough places, though, and at startling-enough rates, to warrant close attention. Law-enforcement officials share that opinion.
A big part of what caused the 20-year drop in crime was proactive police methods in formerly crime-ridden cities like New York and LA. It went beyond responding to already-committed crimes and focused on identifying and stopping people likely to commit crimes in the immediate future.

McDonald continues:
“The reactive policing of the early 1990s was easy,” Lou Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association in New York City, told me in an interview. “You waited for a complainant to tell you that they’ve been a robbery victim. The hard thing is to get someone off the corner before there’s a victim.” It is this proactive policing, when there is no complainant, that can get you in trouble now, Mr. Turco says. “Every cop today is thinking: ‘If this stop turns bad, I’m in the mix.’ ”

An officer in South Central Los Angeles described the views of his fellow cops: “Guys and gals in coffee shops are saying to each other: ‘If you get out of your car, you’re crazy, unless there’s a radio call.’ ”
This is not good. It risks cultivating in cops an attitude towards crime-fighting similar to insurance companies' attitude towards illness: "Only devote resources once it's clear there's a problem."

People complain that insurance companies will pay for statins to treat high cholesterol but not for proactive therapies and treatments that would prevent high cholesterol in the first place. I think we're seeing this same dynamic evolving among the police, and -- just as with medical care -- it leads to lots of preventable suffering.

The biggest difference here is that insurance companies didn't stop paying for preventative measures because they were demonized for doing so. That seems to have been the case with the police, though. Having seen their brothers in blue put on trial -- literally and figuratively, even for legitimate preventative police work -- they have become reluctant to do anything without evidence that there's already been a crime.

As McDonald notes, the people most affected by proactive policing seem to have the least problems with it.
Many residents of high-crime areas don’t look at proactive and public-order enforcement the way their alleged advocates do. In a recent Quinnipiac poll of New York City voters, 61% of black respondents said they wanted the police to actively enforce quality-of-life laws in their neighborhood, compared with 59% of white voters.
Alas, though. Their advocates don't have time to get their actual opinions. They're too busy making a difference to bother making high-crime areas safe.

No comments: