FBI report highlights ‘de-policing’ in response to anti-police attitudes, media scrutiny

posted at 8:41 pm on May 5, 2017 by John Sexton

An FBI study written last month touches on the ongoing argument over the Ferguson Effect. The FBI looked at 50 incidents in which police officers were killed in 2016. In addition to the demographic makeup of the killers, the FBI also examined their motives. While the vast majority were simply attempting to evade arrest or avoid going back to jail, 28% of the incidents involved people who said they wanted to kill police officers. From the report:

The assailants inspired by social and/or political reasons believed that attacking police officers was their way to “get justice” for those who had been, in their view, unjustly killed by law enforcement.  These assailants expressed that they were distrustful of the police due to previous personal interactions with law enforcement and what they heard and read in the media about other incidents involving law enforcement shootings.  Specifically in the Dallas, TX, and Baton Rouge, LA, attacks, the assailants said they were influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, and their belief that law enforcement was targeting black males.

The report goes on to say that the publicity associated with high-profile police shootings, particularly the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, has led to a sense national leaders are against them. “Nearly every police official interviewed agreed that for the first time, law enforcement not only felt that their national political leaders publically stood against them, but also that the politicians’ words and actions signified that disrespect to law enforcement was acceptable,” the report states. That, in turn, leads the officers to be less proactive in their policing, which the report calls “de-policing.”

The above-referenced factors have had the effect of “de-policing” in law enforcement agencies across the country, which the assailants have exploited.  Departments – and individual officers – have increasingly made the conscious decision to stop engaging in proactive policing.  The intense scrutiny and criticism law enforcement has received in the wake of several high-profile incidents has caused several officers to (1) “become scared and demoralized” and (2) avoid interacting with the community.  This was highlighted when a police officer was beaten and slammed to the ground by a subject, and the officer was afraid to shoot the subject because of the fear of community backlash.  The officer informed the superintendant that the officer chose not to shoot because the officer didn’t want his/her “family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on the national news.”

Whether or not this change is responsible for the increases in crime seen in many cities across the country (the Ferguson Effect) is a debate which will no doubt continue. However, the FBI report is one more piece of evidence that police officers themselves believe they are holding back for fear of inciting a backlash.


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