Despite an overall drop in the number of violent crimes committed in the U.S., rates have surged in over 40 major cities across the nation. The spike in numbers are cause for concern, but FBI director James B. Comey thinks he knows what might be fueling the fire.
According to the The Washington Times, Comey asserted Wednesday that the increase in violent crimes can be attributed to police officers’ fears of being videotaped while confronting suspects. He told reporters that a “viral video effect” is resulting in less aggressive policing, which could very well be the cause of elevated murder rates.
“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime — the getting out of your car at two in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ ” Comey said.
Comey refers to the trend as the “Ferguson Effect,” referencing the 2014 shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, The Washington Times reports. The incident caused national outcry and sparked the movement now known as Black Lives Matter.
This isn’t the first time the FBI director has made such claims, however. Per Atlanta Black Star, Comey reiterated his unsupported theory in a statement given at the University of Chicago Law School in 2015. He asserted that cell phone videos were having a negative effect on police behavior, causing officers to avoid interactions with the public, ABS reports. Comey also admitted that although he’s unsure if inaction on the part of officers caused the surge in crime, he has “a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.”
“That wind is surely changing behavior, common sense tells me,” Comey said. “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?”
Law enforcement officials across America don’t necessarily agree with the FBI director’s claims. An article from The New York Times reports that Comey’s comments caught officials by surprise and asserted that his “views were not shared at the top levels.”
The White House has also distanced itself from Comey and the “Ferguson Effect,” saying that the idea lacks credibility.
“We just need to make sure that our policy approach to addressing this situation is rooted in evidence and facts,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “It’s clear that we don’t have enough evidence at this point.”
According to The Washington Times, Earnest also pointed out that last year, President Barack Obama worked with the U.S. Justice Department to create a program that would bring more violent criminals to justice, thus helping communities affected by a crime surge.
“That six-week initiative resulted in the arrest of more than 8,000 gang members, sex offenders and other violent criminals,” Earnest said. “That is an indication of the important role that federal law enforcement can play in supporting the work of local law enforcement in these communities.”
The cause(s) of increased violent crimes in large cities remains a mystery to both Comey and the government, The Washington Times reports.
“The FBI director actually made clear that he didn’t know exactly what was going on either,” Earnest said. “The president’s point is we need to make policy decisions that are based on facts and evidence and not anecdotes. There is still no evidence to substantiate the claim that the increase in violent crime is related to an unwillingness of police officers to do their job.”