Crime researcher reverses course, Ferguson Effect now 'leading hypothesis'

University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld published a paper last June which argued that the “Ferguson Effect” was not real. Rosenfeld’s take on the matter was picked up by media outlets around the country:

  • St. Louis Post Dispatch – A ‘Ferguson effect’ on crime rates? St. Louis criminologist finds no clear proof
  • Huffington Post – The ‘Ferguson Effect’ Isn’t Real, And The New York Times Shouldn’t Act Like It Might Be
  • NBC News – Researchers Cast Doubt on ‘Ferguson Effect’ as Cause of Crime Spikes
  • CityLab – Busting the Myth of ‘The Ferguson Effect’

All of these stories from 2015 rely on Rosenfeld’s analysis at least in part. But Rosenfeld has recently announced that he has changed his mind. The Guardian reports:

Looking at data from 56 large cities across the country, Rosenfeld found a 17% increase in homicide in 2015. Much of that increase came from only 10 cities, which saw an average 33% increase in homicide.

“These aren’t flukes or blips, this is a real increase,” he said. “It was worrisome. We need to figure out why it happened.”

All 10 cities that saw sudden increases in homicide had large African American populations, he said. While it’s not clear what drove the increases, he said, he believes there is some connection between high-profile protests over police killings of unarmed black men, a further breakdown in black citizens’ trust of the police, and an increase in community violence.

“The only explanation that gets the timing right is a version of the Ferguson effect,” Rosenfeld said. Now, he said, that’s his “leading hypothesis”.


Rosenfeld’s statement is very similar to what FBI Director Comey said last October, “It’s the one explanation that, to my mind, explains the calendar and the map and makes the most sense.” The new analysis has not been made public yet but should be out next month. Will the media be as eager to embrace Rosenfeld’s new hypothesis?

FBI Director James Comey has been at odds with the White House over this issue since last year. Last week he weighed in to the mine field again, though he now calls it the “viral video effect” rather than the Ferguson Effect. Comey says he continues to hear from law enforcement officers who are concerned about winding up in viral videos and so have pulled back from having aggressive confrontations with suspects.

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