FBI head doubles down on ‘Ferguson effect’

FBI head doubles down on ‘Ferguson effect’
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Weeks after a sharp rebuke from the White House, FBI Director James Comey is sticking to his claim that putting police under a microscope is leading to an uptick in crime.

On Thursday, Comey delivered remarks at an FBI field office in Kansas City, Mo., that echoed his previous concerns linking extra scrutiny on police to what he describes as a lack of enthusiasm to tackle violent crime.

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“Hundreds of police officers and chiefs” have told Comey that the prospect of getting caught on camera and turned into a viral YouTube video have made them less willing to do their jobs, he said. 

“'We are making arrests, we are doing our jobs,'” police tell Comey, he said, according to a pair of local news reports

“'Where we are stepping back a little bit is at the margins, where we might otherwise have gotten out of our cars and talked to a group. We’re not doing that so much anymore because we don’t feel like being that guy in the video.'”

Following the Royals’ victory in the World Series this year, the FBI head used a baseball analogy to make his point.

If Major League Baseball decided to pay special attention to pitchers who throw inside and happened to hit a couple of batters, Comey explained, they would "move the ball a little closer towards the center of the plate."

"And the consequence would be more hits and more runs," he said.

Fears of the so-called Ferguson effect have come to light in recent months, following a number of cases in which episodes of police violence — especially against African-Americans — were caught on camera and became flashpoints in a national discussion about race in America. The string of incidents includes the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., among many others.

Comey’s comments are at odds with the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to discredit those types of allegations.

“We do have to stick with the facts,” President Obama told a gathering of police chiefs earlier this month, days after Comey first made his arguments about the effect on police. “What we can't do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”  

Claims that police have changed the way they do their work come “without any evidence,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week, following remarks from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration that backed up Comey.  

"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 said.

Despite the seemingly growing divide on the issue, the White House has dismissed questions about a policy split between the president and his top law enforcement officials.

Still, Comey’s insistence on repeating the comments indicates that the difference between the two sides is not going away.