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Analyzing The "Ferguson Effect"

Neil Cooler
Pitt Law professor David Harris explains that the Ferguson Effect has caused more crime only because police have backed down confrontation during potential criminal situations.

As Police Chief Cameron McLay completes his first full year in office, it is important to note exactly what he has done to improve relations between the police force and citizens, especially minorities. The so-called “Ferguson Effect” is becoming a large-scale societal movement according to David Harris, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He explains McLay has done well in his first year in order to improve these relations.

Harris said the Chief is correct in his idea that policing should be data-driven, and not driven by hearsay. Before now, there was no sort of data analysis operation in place for the Pittsburgh Police Department. This type of analytics allows police to be more of a predicting force—anticipating problems before they arise.

Harris believes that Chief McLay has made great strides in improving relations between the police and the African American community. In connecting with African American leaders in town, McLay has built a base of support for himself.

As far as McLay’s focus for the coming year, Harris believes that the chief’s intent to connect with African Americans must translate to all levels of the police department, down to the street level.

Most importantly, morale within the department is crucial.

“He understood from the get go that you can’t have a police force that treats the community well if the police force itself is not treated well by its own command staff.”

Harris notes that police have feel as if they were treated unfairly in the past, so building solidarity within the department is the first step in becoming a respected force.

“If you don’t have equity inside, you don’t have equity outside.”

Harris also notes that a large problem in Pittsburgh law enforcement is the lack of minorities in the force. He predicts this to be a long-term problem that will be a focus for Chief McLay for some time.

“When relations begin to improve between the police department and African American communities, we’ll get more potential recruits.”

A national initiative has been brought forth in order to supply training to departments in procedural justice and implicit bias problems. This initiative is not mandated, but has been adopted by the Pittsburgh Police.

With more training and the information obtained through data analytics within the force, law enforcement should be able to put the focus on the right people when investigating crimes, especially homicides.

“Both people involved in the homicide, the victim and the shooter, they could have easily have changed places,” Harris said.

By focusing on the right people through data, the police can more easily prevent retaliation.

But what about this “Ferguson Effect,” that has seemingly plagued the nation in light of recent events?

The idea of the “Ferguson Effect” is that homicides have increased, murders of police officers has increased, and that protests cause police to back off, giving empowerment to criminals. Harris concludes that data suggest there is no new crime wave occurring nationally and that the violent crime rate is steady or going down in many cities.

Ultimately, Harris says the “Ferguson Effect” is merely the result of a serious case of the blame game.

“It’s simply a way to blame protestors for other problems that are out there.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.