The dynamic world of American policing encountered a period of great turbulence during the closing years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Some place blame at his feet while others recognize the broader complexities of police and community relations, the impact of serious and deadly use of force incidents, the amplifying effect of the media, expansion of social media, police funding and training challenges, and myriad other factors as contributing to what’s now referred to as “the Ferguson effect” where police retreat from traditional proactive policing. Whether a Ferguson effect is exaggerated, real or imagined, a number of data sources point to trouble—rising rates of violent crime, rising intentional and fatal attacks on police, and increasing ambushes of police, coupled with reports of declining police engagement and shrinking police applicant pools. This should raise concern and perhaps alarm. Veterans in law enforcement will say they have never experienced anything like the last three years, and police executives are working hard to find a way out of the torrents while fearing for their own futures if a questioned event happens in their town. In the background, a halting “national conversation” on race and criminal justice is spoken of but has not begun in earnest. It is a hard conversation, one made ever more difficult when incendiary labels like “bigot” and “racist” are casually, and deliberately, tossed like Molotov cocktails when opposing views collide. Some understanding might come by seeing “Ferguson effect” cause and result through the eyes of law enforcement.
Ronald T. Hosko,
Through Police Eyes—the Ferguson Effect Scare,
23 Berkeley J. Crim. L.