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DEA head backs FBI on ‘Ferguson effect’

DEA head backs FBI on ‘Ferguson effect’
© Francis Rivera

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration agrees with FBI Director James Comey that growing scrutiny of police is making officers less willing to do their jobs, he said on Wednesday.

Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg’s comments put him at odds with President Obama, who has rejected the notion that viral videos are causing reticence among police when confronting suspects.

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The remarks, reportedly given during a briefing in Washington on Wednesday, underscore the widening rift on the issue, which could prove troublesome as the White House seeks to loosen sentencing laws.

"I think there's something to" the so-called “Ferguson effect,” Rosenberg told reporters on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

“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 added. “The manifestation of it may be a reluctance to engage” with suspects.

Rosenberg cautioned that he was “not entirely sure what's going on and we ought to try and figure it out.”

Still, he thought "Comey was spot on.”

In a pair of speeches a little over one week ago, the FBI director alleged that “a chill wind” had blown over police officers over the last year, which was “surely changing behavior.”

The new scrutiny of police stems from violent encounters between officers — many of whom are white — and young, African-American men. Those incidents have been more widely publicized in the recent past than was previously the case, a change facilitated by the proliferation of social media. Advocates of police reform say that the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., among others, highlighted an injustice in the current system.

Police feel like they are “under siege,” Comey said in Chicago on Oct. 23, when confronted by “young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars.” 

Obama has distanced himself from the remarks, claiming that statistics do not show a new wave of violent crime.

“We do have to stick with the facts,” Obama told a gathering of police chiefs last week. “What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”