“Ferguson Effect” Possible On Encouraging Property Crimes, Expert Says


Some pundits blame the “Ferguson effect” for a rise in crime, but University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld finds contradictory evidence, depending on where one looks, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Some cities haven't seen a rise in any major crime category, while some have seen a mixed bag and others are seeing crime up across the board, Rosenfeld told The Sentencing Project. The result is a “cherry picker's delight” of data, he said. In St. Louis, most of a 2014 increase in homicides occurred before Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson on Aug. 9. “We can conclude with reasonable certainty that the events in Ferguson were not responsible for the steep rise in homicide in St. Louis,” Rosenfeld said. A rise in other violent crimes in St. Louis began in May 2014, but the rate of increase over 2013 seems to have accelerated after the Ferguson shooting and subsequent protests, Rosenfeld found. He called that “mixed support, at best” for a Ferguson effect hypothesis.

Nonviolent property crimes, meanwhile, were down 15 percent from 2013 before the shooting of Brown. Then they began to grow over 2013 figures and, by December, exceeded the 2013 numbers by about 27 percent. That “offers the strongest evidence in support of the hypothesis that the Ferguson events led to crime increases in St. Louis, at least with respect to timing,” Rosenfeld said. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, who Rosenfeld credits with coining the term “Ferguson effect,” has cited various possible factors, from police being moved to protests instead of normal duty to an “emboldening” of criminals. Others have theorized that officers feel demoralized and thus aren't as proactive in fighting crime. It's possible those things could play a role in the increase in property crimes, Rosenfeld said.

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