The Ferguson Effect

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Claims have been made that since the anti-police backlash after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, robbery and murder rates have increased in certain cities. However, a new study by Arizona State University and the University of Colorado Boulder finds little truth to the so-called “Ferguson Effect.” Study co-author Scott Decker, foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU, will talk about the study

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A special meeting of the Arizona house education committee was called today to consider restoring cuts made to career and technical education programs. Lawmakers are considering a proposal to restore 28 of $30 million in cuts that are set to kick in July 1st. The bill is sponsored by state senator Don Shooter and has broad support in the legislature.

Ted Simons: Phoenix-based Apollo education group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, reached a $1.1 billion deal today that removes the sterling family of the for- profit University. The company's board of directors approved the purchase offer from a consortium of private investors led by Vistria group. The plan still must go through several levels of approval, but if the deal goes through, It will end Apollo's 21 years as a publicly traded company.

Ted Simons: And Tempe Town Lake will be drained starting this Wednesday so that crews can replace a rubber dam and replace it with a metal dam. The lake will be closed until late April, though Tempe officials say that the construction schedule could change depending on the weather, specifically an increase in El Niño rains.

Ted Simons: Did the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, impact crime rates and police procedures around the country? A new study by Arizona State University and the University of Colorado-Boulder looked at the so-called Ferguson effect and joining us now is the study's co-author, Scott Decker, foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." Good to have you. Let's define. What is the Ferguson effect?

Scott Decker: It's a term that was coined by Sam Dotson who is the police chief in St. Louis, Missouri, a neighboring suburb of Ferguson. It identifies the response that occurred after the shooting of Michael Brown that included a couple of components. One was the large-scale protest and sometimes rioting that went on in Ferguson and some in the city of St. Louis expressing more than concern, in many cases, distaste for police control, police shooting, police violence. It also refers to a concern that, because of the expression of negative activity towards the police, the police engaged in what's called de-policing. That means they don't stop as many people in traffic stops, or for interviews. Some have hypothesized as the net result of that and fueled by social media was increases in crime. People are angry about the police. The police are concerned that they are going to get in trouble. If they enforce the law. And so as a consequence crime goes up.

Ted Simons: We have increasing crime rate. We have de-policing, both hypothesized. What did you look at?

Scott Decker: We looked at the crime rate and it wasn't easy to do it. You would think you could go out and find the crime statistics from every police department in America. It's simply not the case. The FBI that compiles them nationally publishes the data 10 months later. So we called and emailed and contacted friends. And got 81 of the 104 largest cities in the U.S. all over 200,000 populations, to give us their data. What we found was no increase in crime. There's a little concern about robbery, but the main seven crimes -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assaulted, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft -- don't show an increase following the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ted Simons: Was that a surprise to you?

Scott Decker: I have to say it was. I had expected that at least in one of those seven, one or two of those seven crimes, and I thought crime like assault or murder would be where we would see the increase. But no significant increase was found when all those 81 cities were considered together.

Ted Simons: The de-policing aspect of the Ferguson effect, is it even possible to look, how would you study such a thing?

Scott Decker: Well, the two key ways you would look at it would be traffic stops. One way for the police to slow down their engagement with citizens is to make fewer stops. And another would be pedestrian stops. Street interviews. We always get a field information card, some measure of how much of that goes on so it could be done. It would be very difficult to do in one department at a time.

Ted Simons: You look at the crime rate, I understand we are talking violent crime and certain, as you mentioned, the list of crimes you mentioned. Robbery, U.S. robbery rates are up, are they not? Is did that play into this idea the crime rate is up?

Scott Decker: Robbery is certainly a crime that most people fear. It's the use of force or threat of force to deprive someone of their property. On the street that usually means an offender points a gun at you and says, give me your wallet, give me your purse. Those are the most frightening crime interactions. It's the crime most people fear. And so it could well be coloring our perception of where the crime rates are. But it's important to note that we are in the midst of a two-decade long decline in crime in the United States.

Ted Simons: Will that decline continue? Is the Ferguson effect, is there a delayed reaction to such an incident?

Scott Decker: We don't see evidence of it in the last several months. And that would be the last few months of 2015. We don't see trickling up. Now, there are some cities, and if you think of 81 groups of things, say, it's your stock portfolio and you have 81 different stocks, some of them are going to be up and some of them are going to be down. The right way to go about it is not to selectively pick out the ones that are up or the ones that are down. But to look at all the cities. So some cities are up.

Ted Simons: But again, not up because of the Ferguson effect.

Scott Decker: That's correct. The timing of it is not indicative of the Ferguson effect sending those rates up.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction have you had to this study?

Scott Decker: Well, it's, for us, it's gone out on Twitter thousands and thousands of times. There are some who are criticizing the study because of the cities that we chose. And we took 81 out of 104. We included everything city we got data from. And some have said that it's critical of the police because it doesn't recognize the pressure the police are under with all the public criticism, much of it on social media.

Ted Simons: Is that a valid argument, do you think, that criticism?

Scott Decker: I don't think that it is. I certainly, neither myself or any of my co-authors have anything in our past that's been overtly critical of the police. I served on the Arizona police standards and training board in Arizona under -- appointed by a Democratic Governor, continued by a Republican Governor. So certainly politically neutral.

Ted Simons: So last question. What do we take of this study?

Scott Decker: I think the first thing is we need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to crime and public policy. The second thing is, we need to be vigilant about our efforts to work with the police to promote better relationships between communities and law enforcement. Because at the end of the day, that relationship goes a long way to determine our crime rates.

Ted Simons: Good information. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Scott Decker: Happy to be here. Thank you.

Scott Decker:Foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU

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