Is the ‘Ferguson Effect’ to blame for the carnage in Chicago?

Is the ‘Ferguson Effect’ to blame for the carnage in Chicago?
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We await the newspaper reports and shootings statistics with a sense of foreboding. Just how many young men of color were slaughtered on the streets of America’s “Second City” over the past weekend?

If we didn’t have such empathy for the victims and families they leave behind, there would be Chicago punchlines galore: Progressive mayor who has made no secret of his disdain for aggressive and proactive policing and a municipality with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation succumbs to gun violence as its “new norm.”

Chicago has a population of just over 2.7 million. Last year it suffered a staggering 650 murders, with the “good news” being that those sobering numbers were a 16 percent reduction from 2016. New York City, three times the size of Chicago with some 8.5 million inhabitants, suffered fewer than 300 and saw crime plunge to levels unseen since the 1950s.


And just why is that? If Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, is uber-progressive, well, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio spent part of his mid-twenties as an ardent supporter of Nicaragua’s Marxist revolutionaries — and he has endured some high-profile dustups with his own police department following cop assassinations and an impolitic warning he gave to his biracial son about the NYPD’s predatory cops.

So why, then, is New York City viewed as a shining example of the synergy between the police department and those it is sworn to protect and serve, held up as one of the safest large cities in the world, while Chicago resembles a city under siege — more perilous for young men of color than serving in a war zone like Afghanistan?

Even the president’s lawyer and the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, weighed in on Twitter, trolling Emanuel and a former president before this past weekend’s statistics had been recorded: “17 shootings 2 dead in Chicago so far this weekend. Hopefully that’s it. Hopefully Democrats will join in demanding Mayor Emanuel’s resignation. Obama’s [sic] has sure turned his back on his city. By the way where is he living? Does he have anything to say?”

No big-city politician had a larger effect on crime reduction during the 1990s than Giuliani. His trolling of Emanuel goes beyond pettiness; it highlights the deleterious effect liberal policies can have on public safety.

But one can argue that New York City is led by a progressive. Yes, but he replaced two essentially Republican mayors in Giuliani and “independent” Michael Bloomberg. The latter embraced Giuliani’s convictions by toning down but continuing to ascribe to the “broken windows” construct, focused on disorder and quality-of-life crimes that often lead to a proliferation of serious crime. The “toning down” came in the form of a more sustained community-outreach program. This coupling didn’t just sustain the continued drastic reduction in crime; it fostered a cooperative relationship with the inner-city community by forging an alliance on crime-reduction efforts.

De Blasio famously refused to appeal a foolhardy decision by federal judge and activist jurist Shira A. Scheindlin, who viewed the policing methodology of “stop, question and frisk” as a “policy of indirect racial profiling.” When she ruled it unconstitutional, the city prepared to fight the ruling, but then de Blasio was elected. Scheindlin, however, later was found by an appeals panel to have “compromised the appearance of impartiality surrounding [the] litigation.”

Less than five years later, it may be premature to counter the argument of the sustaining of declining crime statistics. In fact, what may ultimately plague a city like Chicago is less the lack of New York City-style police tactics. (And, lest I forget, my arrival in New York as a newly-badged FBI special agent in 1991 was met with the prior year’s mind-boggling 2,245 homicides.)

No, the stubborn relationship Chicago has with the coroner’s office ultimately may be related to the fact that it has been led by Democrats since 1931 and to the “Ferguson Effect.”

Following the police shooting of an unarmed African American teenager in Ferguson, Mo., in the summer of 2014, violence erupted in a number of American cities. Coupled with revenge-assassinations of police in New York City, Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyPress: Why do we need a new press secretary? Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House MORE appeared at the University of Chicago Law School on Oct. 23, 2015, and introduced the idea of the “Ferguson Effect.”

It’s a concept not based on empirical data nor rooted in statistical analysis. It’s anecdotal. And Comey received flak for it — even from his boss, President Obama. The theorem is predicated on the notion that uber-scrutiny of police after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson precipitated an emboldening of criminals and reluctance by police to confront them. The corollary to the “Ferguson Effect” is the “Viral Video Effect,” posited as an explanation for rising crime and less proactive policing – essentially, the fear of having your every movement or encounter videotaped and uploaded for slow-motion, stop-action dissection of your real-time judgments.

Some may argue that what really is at the root of Chicago’s ills is more complex. Garry McCarthy, the 25-year NYPD veteran and Chicago Police superintendent fired by Emanuel in December 2015 following another high-profile police shooting of an unarmed black male, attributes Chicago’s difficulty in reaching New York City’s level of success to “the city’s historically segregated neighborhoods, a longstanding culture of hostility between law enforcement and minority communities, and the absence of strict mandatory jail sentences for illegal gun possession.”

McCarthy may be accurate in identifying social factors as synonymous with Chicago as deep-dish pizza and flying the “W” after a Cubs victory. But we cannot discount the idea that proactive policing has become anathema in cities led by Democrats in 2018 America. Cops are fallible human beings and they understand when politicians don’t have their backs. It’s not that they’re not doing their jobs — it’s that they’re not going the extra mile and being proactive, which engenders more voluntary, subjective encounters with the populace that can always go sideways.

The “Ferguson Effect” must be considered in the assessment of just why lawlessness in Chicago appears to have reached pandemic levels.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.