White House rebuffs DEA chief on 'Ferguson effect'

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The White House on Friday rebuffed President Obama’s own Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief for claiming that growing scrutiny of police is making it harder for officers to do their jobs. 
 
Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg’s comments back up FBI Director James Comey, who has argued that viral videos have made officers reluctant to confront suspects. But both men are at odds with Obama, who has rejected the existence of the so-called Ferguson effect. 
 
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“Mr. Rosenberg is the second administration official to make that kind of claim without any evidence,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. 
 
"The fact is, the evidence does not support the claim that somehow our law enforcement officers all across the country are shirking their duties and failing to fulfill their responsibility to serve and protect the communities to which they are assigned.”
 
Earnest’s comments are another sign of the growing rift on the issue within the Obama administration, which could complicate the president’s push to make changes to the criminal justice system. 
 
Despite those divisions, Obama “absolutely” still has confidence in both Comey and Rosenberg to continue serving in their roles, the spokesman said. 
 
“The president is counting on Director Comey to play an important role in the ongoing public debate about criminal justice reform,” he said. 
 
Roseberg told reporters on Wednesday, "I think there's something to" the “Ferguson effect.”
 
“I rely on the chiefs and the sheriffs who are saying that they have seen or heard behavioral changes among the men and women of their forces,” he said. “The manifestation of it may be a reluctance to engage” with suspects.
 
Comey, too, acknowledged he was relying on anecdotal accounts from law enforcement officials that officers feel like they are “under siege.” 
 
Public scrutiny of the law enforcement has increased following a string of police killings of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year. 
 
The question of whether that has made police afraid to enforce the law has been the subject of intense debate as experts struggle to explain an uptick in crime in some major U.S. cities. 
 
In a speech at the University of Chicago Law School last month, Comey suggested the presence of “young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars” have made officers reluctant to engage. 
 
Rosenberg said he believes Comey’s assessment is “spot on.”
 
Obama and civil rights leaders have said there is no statistical evidence to indicate that there is a new wave of violent crime, even while acknowledging rates are up in some cities. 
 
“We do have to stick with the facts,” Obama told the International Association of Chiefs of Police last week in Chicago. “What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”