Better get used to it: The Ferguson effect is real

But despite this rise in crime, arrests in Los Angeles were down by almost 10 percent in 2015. Why? There is an ongoing effort in this country to deny the existence of the “Ferguson effect,” i.e., the increasing reluctance among police officers to subject themselves to the risks attendant to proactive policing (see here and here for but two examples). Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, was demonstrated to have been fully justified in doing so, which was clear enough within hours of the incident. Despite this, he was driven from his job and vilified in the media. Even now, despite having been thoroughly debunked, there persists the myth that Michael Brown was shot in the back and/or with his hands raised in surrender.

In Los Angeles, two police officers are still awaiting a decision on whether they will be prosecuted in the August 2014 shooting death of Ezell Ford, who, when he tried to wrest an officer’s handgun from its holster, paid for it with his life. Though LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ruled the shooting to be “in policy,” i.e., justified under both the law and department guidelines, the civilian police commission – mayoral appointees without even a trace of expertise in policing – ruled the shooting to be “in policy” as to one officer, but “out of policy” as to the other, subjecting him to discipline or even termination.

And earlier this month, Beck made a grand show of recommending that an officer be prosecuted for shooting and killing an unarmed man near Venice Beach last May. Though such charges may in fact be warranted, the apparent relish with which the chief made his announcement left many in the department’s rank and file disheartened, widening the chasm that already existed between the chief and his officers. On Jan. 20, the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for rank-and-file officers, held a press conference at which they criticized Beck for failing to take action against the recent rise in crime. Of particular concern to patrol officers is their dwindling numbers. As of last month there were 9,903 sworn officers on the department, yet more and more of them are being assigned to specialized units at the expense of patrol. In some stations around the city it is not uncommon to see only three or four units on the streets at some hours of the day, putting the officers who remain in patrol at risk in the event they need backup quickly.