Arrests are down in Los Angeles and across California (Is the Ferguson Effect responsible?)

There has been a significant decline in arrests in Los Angeles even as crime is rising in the city. Today the LA Times looks at what is behind the drop in arrests:


The arrest data include both felonies and misdemeanors — crimes ranging from homicide to disorderly conduct. From 2010 to 2015, felony arrests made by Los Angeles police officers were down 29% and misdemeanor arrests were down 32%.

The 2016 numbers aren’t available yet but an Assistant Chief with the LAPD tells the Times the number of arrests has continued to decline. Similar declines were seen in other big cities including San Diego. The result is that the overall number of arrests in California is at its lowest level in nearly 50 years.

The LA Times doesn’t say the so-called Ferguson Effect, i.e. police pulling back to avoid becoming the next viral video, is responsible, but some of its reporting certainly fits with that explanation:

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, 72% of the law enforcement officers questioned said their colleagues were less likely to stop and question suspicious people “as a result of high-profile incidents involving blacks and the police.”

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies interviewed by The Times echoed that view.

“Everyone is against whatever law enforcement is doing, so that makes an officer kind of hesitant to initiate contact,” said one LAPD officer, who has worked in South L.A. for more than a decade and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “A lot of guys will shy away from it because we’ve got the dash cams, we’ve got the body cams.… We don’t want it to come back on us.”


A motorcycle deputy named George Hofstetter tells the Times, “Not to make fun of it, but a lot of guys are like, ‘Look, I’m just going to act like a fireman.’ I’m going to handle my calls for service and the things that I have to do.” He added, “But going out there and making traffic stops and contacting persons who may be up to something nefarious? ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’”

The picture of what is happening isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, though. For one thing, the decline in arrests began before the shooting of Mike Brown in 2014 made police shootings a national issue. That would seem to suggest that something else was motivating the decline or, at a minimum, that other factors were involved.

It may be the case that other factors play a role, including a recent ballot proposition that downgraded some drug offenses. However, the LA Times fails to note that the public issue of police handling of shootings involving black men really began two years earlier with the Trayvon Martin case. Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, not by police, but there was widespread anger at the police starting early in 2012 for failing to arrest Zimmerman for what many considered a murder rather than self-defense.


In March the local police chief was pressured into stepping down from his job over criticism that he was failing to handle the case appropriately. The NAACP wrote to then Attorney General Eric Holder expressing a lack of faith in the local police and asking for federal oversight of the case. And months later, it was in response to the verdict freeing Zimmerman that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” initially arose.

The climate toward police began to sour well before the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, so it’s possible the views of police officers around the country toward going the extra mile also began to change well before 2014.

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