Whether it’s Baltimore, Cleveland, Ferguson and St. Louis County, or now Chicago, cities in which violent crime remains aberrantly high are also served by police departments with long histories of institutional abuse, bigotry and/or corruption, and where transparency and real accountability are close to nonexistent, writes Radley Balko in the Washington Post. We’ve heard a lot about the “Ferguson effect.” The idea is that cops have stopped responding to altercations or stopped proactive policing, because they’re scared of anti-police violence, because public criticism of police has diminished morale, and/or because they’re afraid that if they do need to use force, they’ll be subjected to internal investigations, criminal charges, a lawsuit, or some other sort of discipline.
There also isn’t much data to back up the idea, Balko maintains. In most parts of the country, discipline of police officers is rare to nonexistent. Criminal charges are almost unheard of. Of the 600,000 or so police on the beat in the U.S., typically fewer than 10 per year face criminal charges related to use of force while on the job. What is true is that the cities where there have been recent, high-profile protests against police brutality have also seen much higher rates of violent crime. Perhaps that is indeed because, in response to protests and criticism, the police in those cities have stopped doing their jobs. That’s an awfully cynical view of police. Perhaps it’s because the people who protest police are also just generally lawless and unhinged. That’s an awfully cynical view of people. Here’s another explanation: Perhaps crime is up in some of these cities because police practices have eroded residents’ respect for the police, the courts and the rule of law, Balko says.