FBI Director James Comey disgraced himself last week when he claimed that criticisms of the police over the past year have contributed to the rise in violent crime.
He added, in his October 23 speech at the University of Chicago, that he had no evidence to support this statement. Of course he doesn't have any. There is no evidence.
Comey's claim sends absolutely the wrong message to the country. Without saying so directly, the message is: If you criticize the police, they will have a hissy-fit, scale back their work, and the result will be more violent crime.
In short: everybody just sit down and shut up.
The idea that criticisms of the police, or federal consent decrees that require needed controls over police use of force, cause police officers to scale back their work has been around for 20 years. It has been labeled “de-policing.” It has been investigated and found not to exist.
The consent decree over the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was evaluated by a first-rate team of scholars from Harvard University, who asked whether the consent decree caused LAPD officers to reduce their work effort.
They concluded: “The answer appears to be an emphatic no.” In fact, they added, “The LAPD has been increasing both the quantity and the quality of its enforcement activity. De-policing, in short, does not appear to be a problem in Los Angeles under the consent decree.” Read the Harvard report for yourself (pp. 19-32
Similar claims of “de-policing” were made about the 1997 consent decree involving the Pittsburgh Police Bureau. A Vera Institute study found no evidence of it.
Comey doubled down on his destructive ideas on October 26, saying in a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police that social media about police misconduct had harmed the police. It has not occurred to him that the police misconduct documented in so many videos on social media harm American people.
That is what needs to stop and what he should be speaking about.
The pathetic aspect of Comey's statements is that 11 years ago he stood up against the George W. Bush administration, in one of the most courageous acts in the history of the Justice Department.
Attorney General John Ashcroft had refused to reauthorize the secret NSA spying conducted by the Administration. He was suddenly stricken with a serious gall bladder infection and went to George Washington University hospital for surgery. On the night of March 10, 2004, Bush administration officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card went to his bedside and tried to force him to sign the reauthorization.
The gravely ill Ashcroft refused, and pointed to Comey, then Deputy Attorney General and at that moment the Acting Attorney General, who also refused. In the next few days, Comey and other high Justice officials threatened to resign if Bush reauthorized the NSA spying (which he had the power to do). Comey personally confronted Bush, who backed down.
Comey showed rare integrity and courage in that episode. What happened to him? Why is he now pandering to the police and apologizing for their lawless actions?
Samuel Walker is Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the author of 14 books on policing civil liberties and crime. Comey's actions on the NSA affair are described in his 2012 book, “Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama.” He welcomes comments from readers. His website is http://samuelwalker.net