FBI director James Comey, believes that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers after highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities, reports the New York Times. Comey lent the FBI’s prestige to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals. He acknowledged there is so far no data to back up his assertion and that it may be just one of many factors that are contributing to the rise in crime, like cheaper drugs and an increase in criminals who are being released from prison. “I don't know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Comey said at the University of Chicago Law School. Comey's remarks caught officials by surprise at the main Justice Department, where his views are not shared at the top levels.
Holding police accountable for civil rights violations has been a top priority at the department, and some senior officials do not believe that scrutiny of officers has led to an increase in crime. Several officials privately fumed at Comey's suggestion. (The FBI is part of DOJ). Among law enforcement officials, there is sharp disagreement over whether there is any credence to the so-called Ferguson effect, which refers to protests in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., over a police shooting. In Oakland, Ca., homicides are rising after two years of decline. Shootings are down, and the overall crime rate is about the same, said Police Chief Sean Whent. “Our officers are very, very sensitive to the climate right now, but I haven't seen any evidence to say our officers aren't doing their jobs,” he said. In Washington, D.C., homicides are up, but violent crime and crime overall are down, said Lt. Sean Conboy, a police spokesman. “Trying to correlate it to a Ferguson effect, I don't believe is appropriate,” he said.