A popular refrain from conservatives who oppose criminal justice reform has been that the scrutiny on the police has led to a spike in crime, but it’s little more than a myth.
Chris Christie made the argument in the latest Republican debate, saying that “a lack of support from politicians” has made police officers afraid to enforce the law and fight crime, Citylab notes.
While not the only one, Christie has the responsibility as a national figure and governor to avoid that convenient myth.
Nationally, crime rates remain low. Some cities have seen increases, but those increases started before events in Ferguson and run contrary to the narrative of a “Ferguson effect” that has made criminals bolder and police officers fearful. The war on cops doesn’t exist.
The rise of social media and a push for accountability surrounding police abuse has heightened sensitivities. Yet, for all the bluster, police officers rarely receive punishment. Only 54 officers were charged surrounding fatal shootings from 2005 to 2014, according to The Washington Post, and only five officers have faced charges in connection with more than 800 on-duty police shootings in 2015.
Confidence in the police has fallen to a 22-year low, but they remain among the most trusted institutions, according to Gallup. While police unions prefer to cast those developments as unfair and evidence of a threat to public safety, the argument doesn’t hold. The Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, is not anti-cop, and their suggested reforms target better community relations for all involved, police and citizens alike.
The Ferguson effect did not result in upticks in crime and a mortal threat to police officers. If anything, it should be reimagined as a public discourse on proper police tactics and a broad focus on criminal justice reform.
When the myth of a Ferguson effect fades, a better conversation about policing in America can flourish. Instead of blaming activism concerned about police brutality, solutions for more effective policing can be developed.